It’s now official: The Mission: Impossible movie franchise has to be comprised of three of the most mediocre big budget films I’ve ever seen. Brian De Palma stayed true to the TV show’s form in 1996’s original, but the labyrinthine plot frustrated many moviegoers. So Honk Kong explosion master John Woo was summoned to direct 2000’s sequel, which essentially contained no story but a boatload of slow motion and birds. Now along comes Mission: Impossible III (insert as many colons as you see fit), directed by none other than television suspense-master J.J. Abrams. While his projects have the dignity of being the few of a handful of watchable shows on network television, his feature film directorial debut is as dizzying and annoying as the most asinine of Michael Bay projects.
This time around secret agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is settling down – or so we think. He’s in love with and preparing to marry Julia (Michelle Monaghan), a nurse who thinks he works in the public transportation field (cue one of many blatant True Lies rip-offs). Hunt’s services, of course, are requested to find and recover Lindsey (Keri Russell), a fellow agent who’s been kidnapped by Owen Davian (Hoffman), a stone-faced arms dealer. His latest deadly weapon on the market is a device called The Rabbit’s Foot, which is essentially a bank drive-thru canister filled with a CO2 cartridge and danger label. We never learn more than that, but no one would care anyways. So Hunt and his comrades, tech-savvy Luther (Rhames), brainiac Declan (Jonathan Reys Meyers), and female foil, Zhen (Maggie Q), must track down Davian, recover The Rabbit’s Foot, and save Julia, who is being held hostage.
I didn’t know that Abrams graduated with honors from the Michael Bay School Of Bungee Cord Filmmaking, but one can’t deny the evidence on display here. This technique calls for a camera to be dropped from an undisclosed height and bounce around while people scream, things blow up, and generally no one knows what the hell is going on. The goal is chaos, the result is a headache. The stunts called for in the screenplay are suitably outrageous, but Abrams’ stylistic decisions in shooting them turn them into a blur with plenty of metal-on-metal grinding for no apparent reason.
In keeping with the widely-held theory that a snappy one-liner can save any scene, M:I3 abuses this as far as it can go. Literally every scene ends with a groan-inducing quip that will undoubtedly entertain the easily amused, but will leave us seasoned action fans longing for a film that actually knows how to do things right. Taking the brunt of it is poor Ving Rhames, who one instant is a brilliant gadget expert and the next moment is the dumbest meat head you’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t want to run around in a building being blown up by the remote control guns he is at the helm of. It worked in Con Air, it doesn’t work here.
The performances are satisfactory, with the exception of Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose severely limited screen time essentially consists of desperately trying to look mean. To say he is not convincing as a legitimate threat is an understatement, but at least the screenplay didn’t call for a gigantic nail-biting hand-to-hand battle between Hunt and this weak chub. On second thought, that might have made the film more fun.
Despite my criticisms of the film on the whole, it does provide a few fun switcheroos and some great dialogue from Laurence Fishburne as the head of Hunt’s secret agency. Fishburne delivering lines like “don’t interrupt me when I’m asking rhetorical questions!” with a cold stare is great stuff. Simon Pegg also makes a solid contribution as a dorky computer dweller. Oh, how I can relate to that. Some of the action bits, when the human brain is allowed to decipher them, also provide some popcorn entertainment.
I would mark M:I3 up as a disappointment if only the other two weren’t of the same mediocrity. Some guilty pleasure is to be had from all of them, but none are great action films. M:I3 follows suit perfectly, but one can only wonder how many more of these we will have to endure before someone will get it right.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Length: 126 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of frenetic violence & menace, disturbing images & some sensuality.
Theatrical Release: May 5, 2006
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci & J.J. Abrams. Television writing credit to Bruce Geller.
Cast: Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Keri Russell, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bahar Soomekh, Laurence Fishburne