Mission Impossible III

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In the wake of the success of the Mission: Impossible franchise, many might have forgotten that the films are based on a classic television series which enjoyed an eight-year run between 1966 and 1973.

Each episode opened with a memorable scene featuring the head of the IM Force leafing through a top secret dossier as he listened to his latest assignment on a self-destructing audiotape which began with the trademark phrase, “Good morning, Mr. Phelps.�

Phelps would then handpick a team of agents to assist him in executing a carefully-coordinated, covert operation designed to infiltrate the targeted organization and to complete the task without ever drawing any attention. The first two installments of the movie version only paid lip-service to the original’s “team� and “anonymity� concerns, opting instead for a Tom Cruise vehicle which presented his character, Ethan Hunt, as a virtual one-man operation while relying on eye-popping special effects to dramatize high-impact scenarios which were the opposite of subtle.
Those nostalgic for the TV show, however, will be happy to hear that MI III is not only the best but the most faithful of the screen adaptations to date. Although it remains action-oriented, some major concessions have been made in terms of character and plot development.

J.J. Abrams makes a praiseworthy feature film directorial debut after having made a name for himself on the small screen by helming episodes of Lost, Alias and Felicity. In fact, the executives at Paramount were sufficiently impressed with his resume’ to trust him with $150 million, the biggest budget ever bestowed upon a first-time director.

And J.J. does not disappoint. The wunderkind surrounded Cruise with a talented cast, starting with Ving Rhames, who enjoys an expanded role as Luther Stickell, Ethan’s buddy/tech expert. The rest of the IM team are new, namely, jack-of-all-trades Zhen (Maggie Q), and getaway driver/pilot/boat captain Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Michelle Monaghan plays Julia, Ethan’s clueless fiancée who has no idea what his real line of work is, while Lawrence Fishburne appears as John Brassel, his irascible boss.

This year’s Oscar-winner (for Capote), Philip Seymour Hoffman might be the best of the bunch as Owen Davian, as chilling a villain as you can hope to encounter in the theater. He sets the taut tone which permeates the picture in the opening scene, flapping our unflappable protagonist with these goose-bump inducing lines: “Do you have a wife or a girlfriend? Because I’m going to find her and I’m going to hurt her. And then I’m going to kill you in front of her.�

This frightening flashback kick starts a two-hour, thrill-a-minute, globe-trotting adventure across the U.S., Europe, and Asia certain to satisfy fans of the action-packed summer blockbuster genre. In 25 words or less, the basic storyline involves the diabolical Davian’s threat to sell a vial of chemical mass destruction to the highest bidder, ostensibly terrorists of Middle East extraction.
MI III is laced with homages likely to remind you of some of the most riveting thrillers ever made, including True Lies, Silence of the Lambs and No Way Out. I suppose, if you’re going to borrow ideas, why not borrow from the best?

But this flick’s script still stands on its own and is thickened by an assassination, a red herring, a kidnapping, a back-stabbing saboteur and a host of other complications tossed in for good measure. While you’re connecting all the dots, try to remember that the idea here is to sit back, and simply enjoy all the spectacular stunt work, chase scenes, f/x, pyrotechnics and gunplay with a big tub of popcorn.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for action violence, disturbing image, and some sensuality.
Running time: 126 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures

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