May 17, 2006
The Good The Bad The Ugly
Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible III kicks off with a cinema first: an in-flight defibrillation — designed to reverse the charge of an explosive planted in a passenger's forehead, natch — conducted while the helicopter in use is pursued by enemy aircraft through a field of wind-power spinwheels.
Later, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) infiltrates the Vatican using batgear, a few costume changes, a rubber mask machine, and some well-timed exclamations of "buongiorno, padre." Later still, he jumps off the roof of a Shanghai skyscraper, falls to the car below, and — facing a five-minute call-or-she-dies ultimatum from the villain — has to contend with a bad cell phone signal as his car zips through traffic and gunfire.
Call the movie a retread, but it's heartening to know they've put some thought into these things. More fun than watching the film is picturing the brainstorming sessions among the three screenwriters, whose working processes ("Can we do something with guns . . . and parachuting . . . and walkie-talkies . . . and bad cell phone signals?") must have resembled those of the mixing-and-matching manatee television writers on "South Park" a few weeks ago.
The elaborate set pieces inevitably raise plausibility questions. For instance: Ethan can beat up an elevator full of highly trained agents with lightning-fast precision, but he can't locate his wife (Michelle Monaghan) in the hospital where she works? Why on earth couldn't he handle that simple half-dozen-vehicle pileup on the causeway (which is either located in Miami or on the set of a Matrix sequel — it's difficult to say)? Even so, the movie does aid suspension of disbelief in the most important department: It makes you forget, however temporarily, what an ass Tom Cruise has made of himself in interviews over the last year.
If director J.J. Abrams (of TV's Lost and Alias, and thus the ideal man to return Mission: Impossible to its television roots) doesn't have the visual mastery of Brian De Palma or John Woo — for whom, in the earlier two films, every action sequence was its own impossible mission, requiring complete control of formal pyrotechnics — he does have a respect for genre conventions, not to mention an infectious affection for good character actors.
Philip Seymour Hoffman's first role after his Oscar looks like a money job, but his character, arms dealer/all-around smarmy bastard Owen Davian, allows him to affect a detached amusement even while Ethan dangles him out of a moving plane. Ving Rhames returns as one of Ethan's sidekicks, somehow — like Ethan — not weary after 10 years on the job. Laurence Fishburne is the head of the organization Ethan works for (that's the Impossible Mission Force, or IMF — whose namers surely knew that acronym was taken); he's gruffly dismissive ("Please don't interrupt me while I'm asking rhetorical questions!") and perennially, or at least apparently, behind the curve of what his enterprising agents are doing. And Shaun of the Dead's Simon Pegg is very funny in the role of the de rigueur goofy computer technician.
Mission: Impossible III should be no one's idea of a sophisticated, topical, or moral revenge thriller, despite brief references to arms dealing and adding the matter of Ethan's Dirty Harry-like temper to mix. (The message seems to be that collateral damage is OK — so long as the victims aren't friends or family of Ethan.) Still, M:I III is, in its way, surprisingly modest. Abrams even tips his hat to better directors, especially when — in what appears to be a nod to Wong Kar-wai's 2046 — he sets a scene in a Shanghai hotel room numbered 1406.
Mission: Impossible III may vanish from the mind as quickly as Cruise and company vanish after each assignment, but given how creaky this franchise has gotten — if one counts the TV series, it's ancient — it's impressive that M:I:III manages to get the job done.