Scary Movie Head

Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of frenetic violence and menace, disturbing images and some sensuality

mission impossible 1I love going to the movies. I love standing in line, listening to the pre-show buzz in the auditorium, the aroma of stale popcorn, the coming attractions and the hush that sweeps over the audience when the lights go down. Above all, I love it when a film surprises me, and by this criteria, Mission: Impossible III is one of my best theatre experiences so far this year.

The Mission: Impossible franchise has always been a take-it-or-leave-it affair for me. Brian DePalma’s first installment was entertaining, but not worth a second viewing. John Woo’s follow-up looked so insipid that I waited for the DVD–and then wished I hadn’t bothered. The premise of the franchise (lifted, of course, from the classic television series) is a blend of science-fiction and spy thrillers, and intriguing enough that you’d think the writers could come up with more interesting plot lines. So it was with measured nonchalance that I settled into my seat for the latest episode. What followed was a vibrant and engaging thrill ride that knocked my cynical socks off.

mission impossible 2I could describe the plot, but that really wouldn’t be much help. It’s something to do with a stolen weapon, a secret identity, and a double-cross or two. What matters is that this Mission gives us something to care about in the midst of all the stunts and explosions. Once again, our hero is Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise with so much emoting it looks like his head’s going to pop), but this time there’s a twist: Hunt’s retired from active duty and is engaged to be married. The whys and wherefores of this arrangement are debated within the film, but the point is that with this development, the villain has someone to threaten, and when Hunt is leaping precariously along the roofs of Tokyo’s highest skyscrapers, we have a reason to care.

And speaking of the villain, those nefarious shoes are filled by none other than recent Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, the best actor working actor in Hollywood. Unfortunately, he’s not given enough to do, but every second that he’s on screen is juicier than the last, and he colors his menace with a cool vitriol that’ll make you weak in the knees. I guess I never thought we’d see Hoffman flailing about in a brutal mono a mono throwdown with Tom Cruise, but this is Tinseltown, where wonders never cease.

mission impossible 3It’s all very silly, yes, but director J.J. Abrams (making his feature film debut) pushes the buttons and pulls the strings in perfect time, carefully measuring exhilaration with angst, and the result is a near-flawless summer action film. There’s been no word as to whether there’s another Mission in the works, but if this is the final installment, the series couldn’t hope to go out on a higher note.