Mission: Impossible III should end with a warning: “This movie will self-destruct in 5 seconds.”
I’m not kidding. Five seconds after leaving the big kickoff to this summer’s movie season, I had a tough time recalling what I’d just watched. I knew I’d kinda, sorta enjoyed myself intermittently at something, but what? It had been wiped clean from my brain. I had been mentally degaussed and could now continue to live in Mission: Impossible-free bliss.
The bliss was short-lived. I’ve been instructed, you see, to access the deep memory terminals within my sick mind and recall what I could of the M:I:III experience to you. It’s a painful procedure, but I’m willing to give it a try. Here we go.
Something just burst. Anyway, here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
Damage control: Cruise
Mission: Impossible III is neither better nor worse than the first or the second films in the series, neither of which I seem able to recall as well. It continues to star Tom Cruise as I.M.F. superspy Ethan Hunt, a role playable by anyone with the ability to tightly clench their jaw and look like they’re about to pass a kidney stone the size of Nebraska. The movie has several vigorous, adrenaline-pumping action sequences. Woo-hoo! Action! Guns! Things that go BOOM! It has one or two cool gadgets. And it has a supporting cast who provide support and little else, until they’re required to reenact a moment on Oprah that no one can forget no matter how hard they try.
It also has J.J. Abrams, who co-wrote and directed this installment. He’s the very same Abrams whose Alias, I’m not ashamed to say, is one of my biggest guilty pleasures. (I’m crestfallen that it’s coming to an end, but at least there’s still Lost, another Abrams television concoction that is just as satisfying.) Watching M:I:III unfold, with its twists and turns and double crosses and micro-detonators implanted in people’s heads (a gimmick also employed on a recent Alias episode), you can’t help but think, “Gee, this is like a two-hour Alias special — but without all the actors we’ve come to know and love!”
The serious flaw behind M:I:III is that it remains about one man — Hunt — and not, as was the case with the original T.V. show, a group of superspies. Abrams and Cruise try to humanize Hunt by giving him a personal life, including a wife and a prospect of eternal happiness, the kind of happiness that comes with leaving behind bullets and bad guys and saving the world, and instead comes with mowing the lawn and building birdhouses in a makeshift shop in the garage.
But happiness ultimately eludes Hunt, whose spyjinx plunge him headfirst into a fairly desperate situation: He must toil to rescue his new wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan) from the clutches of an angry, murderous black market arms dealer named Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman).
As Mission: Impossible movies go, this one is pretty straightforward, with as linear a storyline as you can get. There was one bit — a double cross — that I didn’t at all understand, but by that point, I was more interested in M:I:III‘s Macguffin: “the Rabbit’s Foot,” a little biohazard-marked vial that, at one critical juncture, develops a playful, rollicking life of its own on a busy Shanghai street.
Hoffman brings an intriguing sense of apathy to Davian, a rumpled, foul-tempered villain. The actor avoids the over-the-top histrionics usually associated with this type of role. The results are frequently chilling. Ving Rhames returns as Luther, the Jiminy Cricket of the I.M.F. team, while Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers saddle up for action as Zehn and Declan. Trouble is, they see very little action. Because the fun stuff is reserved for the big guy.
And what fun stuff he gets to do! Cruise — er, Hunt — leaps from one tall building to another in a single bound, plummets down the side of a skyscraper, scrambles up a Vatican wall, impersonates a Vatican priest, impersonates Davian, impersonates Tom Cruise from Born on the Fourth of July, shoots a lot of big guns, dodges an impossible number of bullets, dangles someone out of a plane, and evades a few Cruise-seeking missiles on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The only thing he doesn’t do is jump up and down on a couch. Remember, he has the supporting cast do the jumping up and down for him. And jump they do, the little darlings.
I’m all for another Mission: Impossible. I’m all for J.J. Abrams having another go. I’m even for Cruise continuing in the role. But it would be nice if there were a little more involvement from the rest of the I.M.F. team.
I am now going to allow the memories of M:I:III to recede, buried forever with the rest of the movies I’ve deemed as instantly forgettable, movies like… like… well, I can’t remember, actually. There’s really no point in keeping them active. They’re just a waste of brain space.