Mission Impossible III

dir: J.J. Abrams
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The world was crying out for another Mission: Impossible sequel the way children call out for a second helping of brussels sprouts, or for another trip to that creepy uncle who ends up putting them in therapy for the next 40 years. But who can say no to a man as charming and engaging as Tom Cruise?...

It is very tempting to veer off on rants about how bizarre the news has become over the last few years regarding this guy. The high point wasn’t the birth of the first heir to his Scientological throne just last week, but in the insane and inane stories about how he was going to chow down on the infant’s placenta and umbilical cord. But I don’t get paid to dissect the idiocies of Hollywood stars or the tabloid media, or the sorts of morons who devote their empty lives to endlessly talking about and reading about the entirely made up lives of celebrities.

Much as I would love to: there’s an entire PhD begging to be written about the kinds of people who read these mags in the checkout line at the supermarket and care about ‘articles’ that use sources like ‘the star’s personal trainer’s pilates instructor’s gynaecologist’s florist says the couple’s on the rocks and heading for splitsville!’ and actually care about it. That people read and believe this crap and repeat it to others is the surest evidence that dark forces spewed forth by volcanoes are at work against the collective intelligence of the human race.

Who can fathom the internal emptiness required in order to devote yourself to the study of people who actually believe the world gives a fat rat’s ass what they have to say about anything simply because they’re famous? Celebrities? What the fuck do they celebrate anyway, apart from themselves and the fact that they’re so rich?

The blankest and most successful of them all is surely the man with the widest shit-eating grin in Hollywood: Mr Tom ‘L. Ron’ Cruise. His movies are virtually a genre unto themselves, and, as arguments I’ve had on this newsgroup would indicate, they’re movies that many people don’t see specifically because Tom Cruise is in them. Surely his recent antics: couch jumping, anti-psychiatric rants, ‘silent birthing labour’, pro-Xenu bullshit are winning him even more fans, from Persia to Pittsburgh, from the Black Stump to what’s left of the Balkans. The world is united in its inability to believe Cruise is a real boy, just like Pinocchio.

Every star wants to have a franchise as part of their career. You want something earning you money securely over the years. Despite being (especially the 2nd one) not particularly overflowing with awesomeness or intellect, the Mission: Impossible flicks have generated squillions of dollars for Cruise, much of which has probably found its way into the coffers of the Church of Scientology. That should keep you up at night.

The first flick had Brian DePalma at the helm, and was the first insult to fans of the original television series. And people found it really confusing, which is less a criticism of DePalma or Cruise, and more a criticism of the kinds of morons that think Titanic was a documentary.

The second M:I had John Woo at the helm, which sounded like a good idea at the time, since we all used to believe Woo knew how to make decent action films. We forgot that he hadn’t made a good film since Hard Boiled, which was way, way back in 1992. We also weren’t to know that John Woo doesn’t actually exist. It’s just a collective entity of bad directors who use the name ‘John Woo’ because they got sick of using the nom de craptitude Alan Smithee whenever they made a stinker.

The third instalment has J. J. Abrams at the helm, in his first time out directing for the theatres. It’s intended as a re-establishment of what made the show cool in the first place: a team of rascally clever clogs working together to nab the nasties and keep democracy safe for the rest of us damp and dim slobs. They would achieve all this with crafty disguises, split-second timing, the gentle art of seduction and misdirection, and whatever gadgety gadgets they could think up that week.

It’s true that the third is probably the best of the bunch, but that’s like picking the best actor in Everybody Loves Raymond or the least crap player on the current Richmond football team. Look at what you’re comparing it to.

J. J. Abrams’ claim to fame is the creation of a few successful television series. Of course he needs to be castrated, strangled, drawn and quartered for loosing the show Felicity upon the world, but he also created and ran the shows Alias, which starred the consumptive Jennifer Garner as a superspy, and Lost, the perplexing and frustrating Gilligan’s Island retread that loses more viewers the longer they drag that shit out.

Whilst Alias is a pretty mind- and genital-numbing show, when you weren’t distracted by the hollow, hungry-looking cheeks of main character Sydney Bristow, you’d see guns and stuff, explosions every now and then, snappy editing and some snappier dialogue. Abrams brings that sensibility over to the M: I franchise, and it’s the better for it.

The film opens in media res, which is a fancy shmancy way of saying ‘in the middle of some serious shit’, with an evil villain (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) threatening to kill a woman, with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) strapped to a chair, covered in blood and begging for her life. This plays out in such a way that I thought I was watching Hostel and not a spy flick, but it does go a substantial way in setting the scene for a relatively ballsy flick.

Of course it has to flash back to the beginning to explain how everything gets where it does. Ethan Hunt is in wuv with a girl, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), and wants to marry her, but he can’t tell her what he does for a crust. In the middle of a purgatorial ‘getting to know the family’ get-together, Hunt gets the call from his masters at the IMF, with the usual self-destructing message exhorting him to attend to some superspy business.

No, it’s not the International Monetary Fund on the line, although it would make much more sense. The superspy organisation he works for tell him that one of the operatives he trained has gone missing whilst undercover, and needs retrieval. Cue the intro of Hunt’s team of operatives, with one returning from the other two flicks, Luther (Ving Rhames), and the new additions (Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers) an elaborate action set piece, and the next sample of breadcrumbs intended to keep the flick chugging along towards the general direction of the next plot milestone.

And chug along it does. The operative they were meant to save (played by Felicity’s Keri Russell, who needs to be indicted on war crimes for that show) was put in peril by an unspeakably wicked arms dealer called Owen Davian (Hoffman). Since we saw him getting metaphorically medieval on Ethan Hunt’s main squeeze in the intro, we know he’s a nasty piece of work with a penchant for cruelty.

Davian sells highly lethal weapons to the highest bidder, which these days means terrorist type groups. Now he’s after something called the Rabbit’s Foot, which is meant to be a codename for something awful in its capabilities and terrible in its implications. In reality it’s the biggest cinematic MacGuffin since the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.

The team works together the way that teams in your workplace, if you work in the exciting corporate world, pretend to work effectively during team building exercises and then devolve back into the regular bitchiness and back-stabbing a day later. But these guys, compared to you and your work colleagues, are competent and professional, and always seem like they’re just that little bit smarter than the people they are hunting.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case, because the villain is way smarter and at least two steps ahead for most of the flick’s duration. The shame is that whilst Hoffman, who would have filmed this way before winning his Best Actor Oscar for Capote, acquits himself quite well, he really isn’t in the flick for that long to really even justify the paycheck. If he’s in it for more than 10 minutes, then colour me surprised. And considering that it’s a two hour flick, it still amounts to a cameo. But he’s still great in each scene. They give him no backstory, no motivation, little by way of additional characterisation, but he still walks away with any scene he appears in.

I don’t really know if the emphasis on the relationship between Hunt and his squeeze adds or detracts from the overall proceedings. It smells of Cruise wanting there to be more of a romantic parallel to his own real life circumstances, but to speculate on that makes me as much of a moron as the people who read nothing but glossy magazines with people of his ilk on the cover.

The editing is quite brisk, the action is reasonably well done, I was curious as to where stuff was going, and the dialogue isn’t entirely purgatorial. In fact, there are some pretty nifty lines thrown in. One of my favourites is delivered by Laurence Fishburne, playing a spy boss, shutting someone up by grunting “Don’t interrupt me when I’m asking rhetorical questions.” There is almost a hint of deconstruction to some of the set-up and dialogue, almost an admission on the part of Abrams that the whole notion of an Impossible Mission Force fighting baddies all over the world is faintly ridiculous. But it’s played straight, which is important.

It’s not all snap, crackle and pop, though, and there are a few cheats and implausible contrivances, and it is rife with plotholes (as are even the best of these kinds of films, like the Bond films at whose altar these flicks worship). But it was entertaining and I wasn’t bored, and that’s the most I can hope from a film of this type.

Favourite bits include everything shot in Shanghai, where it’s comforting to see how much of the old city remains amidst the shiny new, the torture scenes with a helpless Cruise, the scenes where Hoffman’s character is telling Hunt what he’s going to do to someone he loves, a sequence at the Vatican, the military-style attack on the bridge, and Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead fame, as some kind of fast talking government nerd.

Your life will continue on unabated, with this flick unmissed and unlamented if you choose not to watch it. I’m not pretending it’ll get you laid, or make you feel and express emotions you’ve never felt before, or that you’ll advance in your Scientology training and reach Clear because of it. Because it’s just an action flick.

I can’t imagine that they’ll make a fourth one in this franchise, but you never know. If they do I demand that they call it The Revenge, just like Jaws 4.

7 times the teachings of the clams make me chuckle out of 10

“Whoever she is, I'm gonna find her. I'm gonna hurt her. And then I'm going to kill you right in front of her.” – Mission: Impossible III