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"Runs too fast, overloaded with pointless action to the brink of exhaustion."
"Will satisfy the action lover with the sheer volume of sequences."
"This review will self-destruct in 5 seconds!"
Mission: Impossible III  

Cast

Ethan Hunt: Tom Cruise
Owen Davian: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Luther Strickell: Ving Rhames
Lindsey: Keri Russell
Brassel: Laurence Fishburne
Musgrave: Billy Crudup
Declan: Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Julia: Michelle Monaghan
Review May 2006

The theme song is unmistakable. The action is suspenseful. And the mission is always impossible. Based off the spy savvy television series by Bruce Geller, the Tom Cruise infused "Mission: Impossible" franchise grows older the third time around, as team leader Ethan Hunt has retired and is looking to settle down. But when one of his former agents is kidnapped, he gets pulled back into action. And to save the ones he loves, he must confront the toughest villain he's ever faced in Owen Davian, an international weapons dealer with no mercy. Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, whose television creations "Lost" and "Alias" have captivated audiences worldwide, "Mission: Impossible III" is filled with intrigue - double agents, fast cars, and breathtaking stunts. But too much of anything can be dangerous. And "Mission: Impossible III" runs too fast, overloaded with pointless action to the brink of exhaustion.

The film begins many years after "Mission: Impossible II." Ethan Hunt has retired from active duty, makes his living training new Impossible Mission Forces (IMF) agents, and even considers settling down and marrying his girlfriend, Julia, who thinks that he is a traffic engineer. But before things get too comfortable, Hunt is approached by the agency once more and asked to save one of his former students, Lindsey, who has been kidnapped by a dastardly weapons dealer named Owen Davian. In spite of his misgivings, Ethan jumps back into action with a team of specialists. Comprising the IMF team are his longtime friend and logistics expert, Luther Strickell, transportation specialist, Declan, and jack-of-all-trades, Zhen. Together, they put together an elaborate rescue, which is executed with precision...at least, to a point.

In hindsight, the mission has several repercussions. Of most significance, the discovery of a technological weapon known as the Rabbit's Foot, a weapon of armaggeddon-like magnitude. And Davian is conspiring to acquire it. Thus, Hunt's team is once more deployed to intercept. But instead of acquiring the weapon, through a series of fake identities and ingenious maneuvering, they acquire Davian himself. Hoping to gain crucial intelligence, the agency fails to adequately protect Davian and he is rescued in explosive fashion. In fact, his first act of revenge is to kidnap Hunt's love, Julia, and use Hunt as a gopher to acquire the Rabbit's Foot. And it begins another flurry of unthinkable stunts and double crosses, to where even the agency itself cannot be trusted. A mission that, of course, earns its reputation as a mission: impossible.

If you are a fan of J.J. Abrams television work ("Alias," "Lost," and "Felicity"), you will no doubt recognize his influence on "Mission: Impossible III." In fact, he's probably as close to the right director and writer for the "Mission: Impossible" series that you can get, having been there, done that, and won two Emmys along the way. Borrowing many lessons from the stylistic espionage series, "Alias," Abrams employs a similar format of storytelling. In fact, one could argue that the formula only needs one substitution: Sidney Bristow for Ethan Hunt. For starters, the story begins in the middle, flashing backwards and forwards through time while maintaining an exhilarating pace - quintessential "Alias." The film then throws in big labels when changing locations in much the same fashion as "Alias." And lastly, there is the look and feel, which is not as slick and polished as most action adventures, but more rough and tumble, a signature of the gutsy, organic world of SD-6.

Returning for thirds in the leading role is Tom Cruise, an actor who's off camera antics and couch-jumping shenanigans have certainly garnered a fair share of negative publicity. But they're not enough to detract from the film, a film that is so focused on the next stunt that it doesn't have time to develop characters and allow the actors to act. Even though Ethan Hunt is given a hint of a personal life, it's too rushed and narrowly focused to carry any emotional weight. However, on the flipside, there is a heavyweight. Philip Seymour Hoffman's presence as Owen Davian is borderline psychotic. Ruthless and bold, Hoffman creates a villain that is so carefree and terrifying that you almost feel convention may be broken at any time. Says Davian, "Do you have a wife? A girlfriend? Whoever she is, I'm gonna find her. I'm gonna hurt her. I'm gonna make her bleed. And then I'm gonna find you and kill you right in front of her!" Such words, when spoken by Hoffman, are so hostile and filled with chaos that you believe them. But, alas, his character also succumbs to the need for more testosterone and less character conflict.

Speaking of which, at the heart and soul of every "Mission: Impossible" adventure is a series of breathtaking, thrilling action sequences. And for that, "Mission: Impossible III" does not disappoint. There are helicopter chases through windmills in Berlin, scaling walls and spelunking underground in Vatican City, an explosive jailbreak on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and lots of roof jumping and skydiving in Shanghai. Although the film does not present any unique thrills or technological advances, it will satisfy the action lover with the sheer volume of sequences, even though the technical jargon may be completely off base, i.e. misinterpreting a fulcrum as a pendulum or giving misleading directions over a cell phone.

Yet, while the action sequences are dynamic and explosive, it's quite apparent how the storyline takes a back seat. In fact, this may be one of the most obvious attempts at sacrificing story for action that have come along in quite some time. Especially when you consider the number of plot devices whose only purpose is to create action, a la the locations themselves or the women in the film. After all, why is Davian in Vatican City? Why is the Rabbit's Foot in a skyscraper in Shanghai? And why would Ethan Hunt sacrifice his life and those around him for something he knows nothing about? The two key motivational arcs in the film involve women in trouble, both Lindsey and Julia. And the Rabbit's Foot, the motivational plot point tying Owen Davian and Ethan Hunt together, is never truly explained. Says Benji, the technical genius at IMF headquarters, "Well I'm assuming the rabbits foot is some sort of a codename for a deadly weapon, otherwise it could just be some very expensive 'bunny appendage.'" After all, if it were in fact a bunny appendage, wouldn't Ethan just kick himself?

Overall, "Mission: Impossible III" is not a bad summer movie, especially when you learn to accept it as such. But like many popcorn films of late, it's very forgettable. And that's all because the film lacks context. Without context, action scenes lose their meaning. And without character and situational drama, there is no empathy, no emotion, and no concern. Even between Ethan and Julia. Occasionally, the story tries to develop a little bit of personality, but even then, you get the feeling that the dialogue can't keep up the pace. The next action scene is coming. The bloody Rabbit's Foot is missing. And this review will self-destruct in 5 seconds!



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