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May 3-9, 2006

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'Mission: Impossible III'

Photograph by Stephen Vaughan
Take That, Brooke Shields: Tom Cruise takes on all comers in his impossible mission to convince the public that he hasn't gone completely crazy.

Missionary Position

'Mission: Impossible III': Hunt gets captured by the game

By Richard von Busack

MAKING AN ENTRANCE that looks like Hostel, J.J. Abrams' Mission: Impossible III boasts a brutal pre-title sequence, then Abrams (Lost) leads to the sizzling fuse and Lalo Schifrin's Afro-Cubanate theme song. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is about to get married. His bride to be (Michelle Monaghan) knows nothing about Ethan's previous life as a man who used to jump off skyscrapers and hang off the side of the Eurostar.

A spook from Hunt's past (the always covert Billy Crudup) recruits the agent for a rescue mission. Schifrin's snare-drum march rattles during a midnight raid on a German factory. Nothing has changed since 1944: a bombed-out yard, smoking smokestacks, Fraktur lettering on the side of parked trucks. Our ancient Teutonic foe isn't expecting a few new arrows in our quiver, such as the "vascular identification" scope Hunt uses to find his target.

Still, the rescue goes south. It's hard to do brain surgery in a helicopter whilst being shot at by missiles and dodging between the blades of a wind farm. Boss Laurence Fishburne gnashes his prodigious teeth over the failure.

Doghoused, Hunt is all the more anxious to find the mysterious arms dealer/kidnapper responsible for the mess. He's tipped that the quarry has a rendezvous in Vatican City. And it's as fine a heist as a spy movie has ever cooked up: a sunriselike first shot of St. Peter's materializing on the far side of a wall, the vacuforming of false faces, a little scuba diving in the Tiber, some rearranging of the Catacombs with plastique, and the final stuffing of arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) down a manhole.

And the film's itinerary still reads "Rome-D.C.-Shanghai." As we saw from the flash-forward, Davian will be stomping after his Thermos-sized McGuffin. It's called "the rabbit's foot." What's inside the Thermos is so deadly that it's hinted at in dialogue given to a junior technician called Benji (Simon "Shaun of the Dead" Pegg). Just shooting the breeze, Benji recalls a professor who used to theorize "an anti-God"—something that would dissolve all reality.

Nice, but it's hard to imagine anything inside the Thermos that's as fearful as the man carrying it. Where Hoffman has been doughy and oily before, here he's dead serious and muscular, snatching a drink off a cocktail cart with the kind of wrath most actors save for the grand finale. If Hoffman's Davian is a Bond villain, he's like a Bond villain from the novels, an ogre in a tuxedo.

Also like Ian Fleming is the way science fiction elements, should you choose to accept them, are mixed with the ordinary machinery of death. This summer movie season starts off with a concerto of bangs, and Mission: Impossible III is a handsome apology for the previous sequel.

Abrams does this one straightforward and lucid, keeping the action at a rolling boil. As Luther, Ving Rhames is a pleasure as the coach of the team. Monaghan's balance of crisp perkiness and inner sadness elevates Cruise to her level as an actress. Mission: Impossible III moves with such urgency that Cruise's callowness, and his tendency to loop his gestures (the same three angles of the head, again and again), isn't more noticeable than a dropped kernel of popcorn.

Movie TimesMission: Impossible III (PG-13), directed by J.J. Abrams, written by Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, photographed by Dan Mindel and starring Tom Cruise and Philip Seymour Hoffman plays valleywide.

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