Tuesday, May 30, 2006

MOVIES: Mission: Impossible III

Why does Mission: Impossible III gain a colon when abbreviated? And why does the "Impossible" lose its capital letter? M:i:III. Or, as Stephen Colbert called it, "Miiiiiih." Anyway, those are probably the least of the questions I could ask about this movie. For example, here's a good one: why the hell did I see it?

Here's at least one answer: I felt like seeing a big dumb movie with shit getting blowed up real good. I probably should have seen X-Men: The Last Stand instead (you know what that title needs? More colons), and in fact, I have seen it now (review tomorrow, probably); I was waiting to see it with a friend. So M:i:III was the other obvious choice.

Alternate reason: anything with Philip Seymour Hoffman in it can't be all bad. And that held true, even for this post-couch-jumping Tom Cruise vehicle. Hell, even without Hoffman, I knew it couldn't possibly be as bad as Mission: Impossible II.

Hoffman makes an unbelievably excellent villain. My favorite bit is where he threatens Tom Cruise: "Do you have a wife? A girlfriend? Whoever she is, I'm gonna find her. I'm gonna hurt her. I'm gonna make her bleed." You've probably seen that bit in the trailer and the commercials. What makes it so amazing -- and what you can't tell from the commercials -- is that Hoffman is completely defeated at this point. He's been captured, he's tied up, on his way to custody, completely at the mercy of his captor. And yet he's still so stone cold evil, so cocky, so completely assured of his ownership of Tom Cruise's character, that he rattles off this horrible threat -- and we already know, from the opening scene (most of the rest of the movie is a flashback from that point), that he makes good on his promise. Great, great villain. He should be a James Bond bad guy. (By the way, so should Alan Rickman. Somebody get on that!)

There are other good performances. Ving Rhames doesn't have much to do, but he does it well. Billy Crudup I like. Simon Pegg's got a great comic relief role. Sir Laurence Fishburne is -- I was about to say "is always great," but then I remembered the last two Matrix movies. And Assault on Precinct 13. He's generally better than average, let's say instead. I even spent most of the movie watching Tom Cruise and hardly ever thinking, "Man, Tom Cruise is out of his fucking mind." So good job there.

Aside from Hoffman, I was mostly interested in this film to see what first-time feature director J.J. Abrams would do with a massive budget and huge stars. Well, first he hired Keri Russell and Greg Grunberg. Good for him. As for the rest -- I have to admit, as much as I love his TV work, and as much as I wanted him to hit a home run here, it's fairly pedestrian. He does a good job with the action scenes -- compared to a lot of directors these days, he does an excellent job just in keeping the action coherent at all times, instead of assaulting us with blipvert cuts (man, Wikipedia has an entry for everything). There are some standout moments -- the attack on the bridge, the abduction of Hoffman at the Vatican, and of course, Hoffman kicking the shit out of Cruise (kind of a lame, anti-climactic ending to that fight, though).

But all the big action setpieces, while fairly engaging in the moment, don't really satisfy as a whole. There are a few amazing things that happen throughout, and a few patently ridiculous things, as is only to be expected, but they still somehow left me wanting. For me, watching Hoffman be evil was far more thrilling than watching Cruise swing from one skyscraper to another, or two helicopters engage in midair battle. Also, that goddam crap with the masks -- OY! Must every film in this series hinge on multiple uses of those ridiculous masks??

Abrams the writer does a better job than Abrams the action director, with some good quips and some great villainous speechifying, but there was just something lacking overall. Not a lot -- but enough to leave me disappointed. A decent diversion, but lacking that extra something to make it a genuinely good movie.

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