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(2006) (Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: A spy returns to active duty and joins other to stop an international weapons dealer who's killed his former trainee and kidnapped his fiancée.
Ethan Hunt (TOM CRUISE) was once of the best active duty IMF agents around, but he now works training other agents and looks forward to a life of domestic bliss with his hospital nurse fiancée, Julia (MICHELLE MONAGHAN). But when he gets word from IMF operations manager Musgrave (BILLY CRUDUP) that one of his former students, Lindsey Ferris (KERI RUSSELL), has gone missing while on the trail of international weapons dealer Owen Davian (PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN), Ethan returns to active duty.

Reunited with computer expert Luther (VING RHAMES) and teamed with driver Declan (JONATHAN RHYS MEYERS) and the alluring Zhen (MAGGIE Q), Ethan sets out on a perilous rescue mission. But when things don't go as planned, Ethan and his crew get an earful from IMF director Brassel (LAURENCE FISHBURNE) who isn't pleased about their covert spy mission.

Fortunately for them, they get intel that Davian will be at the Vatican. With the aide of tech guru Benji (SIMON PEGG) back at headquarters, Ethan and his crew set out to capture him and figure out what he wants with a nebulous object known only as the "rabbit's foot." But when Davian escapes their capture and ends up kidnapping Julia, Ethan suddenly faces a forty-eight hour countdown to meet the villain's demands, all while dealing with knowledge of a mole inside their agency.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
A few years back, there was a fun and lively little German import known as "Run Lola Run." In it, the title character -- yes, you guessed it -- followed the titular advice and sprinted here, there and everywhere during the film. It was done in such an infectiously energetic way that it almost made you want to get out of your seat and sprint down the street (or at least to the concession stand or your home fridge to see what might weigh you down some more).

Perhaps mega-star Tom Cruise saw that pic as well, because he's been doing a lot of running in his recent films. Of course, when Martian tripods are laying waste to your town, you'll likely be high-tailing it as well. While alien invaders aren't the cause this time around, Cruise is back in track meet form in "Mission Impossible III," the long delayed sequel to (my, aren't you smart) "Mission Impossible II" (from 2000).

Unlike Lola, however, Cruise puts so much energy and determination into his running style that you think he's going to blow a gasket (or cranial artery) while blasting down the streets of Washington, DC or the sidewalks of Shanghai. While one might get the impression all of that sprinting is symbolic of the actor wanting to get away from all of the true and/or over-hyped stories of his off-screen behavior, his intense, upright running style is appropriate for this pedal to the metal action flick.

Short on plot but firing on all cylinders, the film is directed by J.J. Abrams who makes his big screen directorial debut (after working on the TV shows "Alias" and "Lost") with this third entry of the movie series based on the original TV show from way back when. Like its predecessors, this film -- penned by Abrams and co-scribes Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci -- is less cerebral than the show, which was something of an American answer to the British James Bond flicks ("Get Smart" notwithstanding).

Yes, there are the requisite gadgets and the obligatory mask scenes, as well as more teamwork than occurred in the last film (that -- I'm literally surprised -- I rated much higher than I would have nowadays -- so knock it down a few points as necessary). But Abrams and company are more interested in big, action-filled set pieces, and they more than ably deliver all of that in spades (and then some).

With just enough plot (about trying to stop a ruthless, international arms dealer and rescue Cruise's girlfriend -- no, not that one, although Michelle Monaghan does look a bit like the better half of Tomkat) to hold the film together, the filmmaker delivers some rousing sequences that are sure to delight and enthrall audiences looking for some mindless, high-octane, escapist entertainment.

Whether aping material from the first film (especially the famous suspended by a cable above the floor scene), one-upping material from others (most notably the bridge attack sequence in "True Lies") or coming up with some original material, Abrams seems quite comfortable moving from the small to big screen in such regards. He also infuses the film with more comedic relief than last time around (although John Woo's trademark slow motion fireworks did get rather silly), thus making the film a bit more engaging and accessible.

The less said about the plot the better (beyond some traitorous material there isn't a great deal that's terribly compelling), but the film does benefit from a terrific cast (especially for a second sequel where most of the performers didn't appear in the earlier installments). Befitting his surname, this is the sort of material Tom can cruise through, and either you like him or don't in this sort of role. I lean toward the former, although all of that off-screen notoriety is making it harder to separate the real actor from the characters he plays on the screen.

Ving Rhames reprises his role and gets some briefly funny material, while the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne, Kerri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers appear in new roles. Some have bigger parts than others, with Hoffman agreeably playing a nasty villain, while Monaghan finally gets to shine late in the film after Ethan shows her how to fire and reload a handgun right before a literally shocking turn of events.

Is any of it credible? Hardly, but that's somewhat the point. While I would have preferred to have seen a smarter script as well as more of what made the original TV show so much fun to watch, I'll have to admit that the action here is first-rate.

Accordingly, if you have a hankering for explosions, stunts galore and the sight of Cruise running in such an intense fashion that he almost doesn't look human (and thus comes off as somewhat comedic, albeit in a cool way), this is a mission you should probably accept. This review -- that rates "Run, Tom, Run," uh, "Mission Impossible III" as a 6 out of 10 -- will self-destruct in three, two, one...

Reviewed May 2, 2006 / Posted May 5, 2006

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