Adam B. Vary
December 27, 2006 AT 05:00 AM EST

Mission: Impossible III

Current Status
In Season
126 minutes
Wide Release Date
Tom Cruise, Billy Crudup, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Keri Russell
J.J. Abrams
Paramount Pictures
J.J. Abrams

We gave it a B-

It would be a relief to be able to review Tom Cruise’s action-film spectacular Mission: Impossible III without also reviewing its place in the Tom Cruise movie-star-rehabilitation spectacular. But his spy franchise’s latest (and seemingly last) installment makes it nigh impossible.

For one, there’s really not much movie in this Mission. Its MacGuffin, a Big Gulp-size mystery weapon called the Rabbit’s Foot, is so inconsequential it’s laughable. (No wonder. In a commentary with Cruise, co-writer/director J.J. Abrams — who created the twisty spy series Alias — says his goal was to ”make it a joke.”) Yet the real story — can Cruise’s superagent Ethan Hunt have a lasting relationship with his wife, Julia (Michelle Monaghan)? — is also hamstrung by nagging relatability problems. What we definitely know about Julia is that she (a) works in a hospital, (b) does not know Hunt’s real job, and (c) looks not unlike Cruise’s actual wife-to-be, Katie Holmes. That vacuum could easily lead us to wonder whether the film is really asking this: Can global superstar Cruise have a lasting relationship with Holmes? (For those keeping track, ”Kate” is mentioned three times in the extras, always in reference to her pregnancy with then-unnamed baby Suri.)

But right, back to the film. There’s Philip Seymour Hoffman as the deliciously splenetic villain Owen Davian — his Cruise imitation while ”wearing” a Davian mask is an all-too-brief high point — and, oh yeah, impossible missions. Abrams’ claustrophobic style actually looks much better on TV; in the theater, it felt like, well, a really expensive episode of Alias. Even he calls himself out: ”I know I love close-ups,” he admits, ”and maybe use them too often.”

And while he lacks big-screen savvy — M:I-3 is his first film — Abrams sure can craft a gripping action sequence. Unfortunately, you’ll never know how. The DVD extras give us glimpses of the planning behind, say, a breakneck helicopter chase or the construction of a supercool mask-making device — but we never get a thorough blow-by-blow…except of Cruise’s prowess as a stuntman, a recurring theme throughout the two-disc set that would be less tiresome if it weren’t common knowledge that the guy does all his own stunts.

It’d be nice to have more of Abrams’ charming self-deprecation — on, for example, the insanity of making his movie debut with a mega-blockbuster: ”I mean, there are more people on the crew than I’d ever, certainly, you know, met in my life.” Instead, we get two fawning awards-show montages celebrating Cruise’s 25-year career. In fact, the guy who seems least interested in talking about Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise — and yet everything is about him. That’s a movie star.

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