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It’s just impossible to buy this latest IMF outing (joss whedon mention)

Friday 12 May 2006, by Webmaster

The 2006 Summer Movie Season got off with a bang - sort of. The fallout from Tom Cruise - acknowledged as the top moneymaking, bankable actor in the world - and his recent queer antics reflected on his latest movie, Mission: Impossible: III.

About the film One thing you have to admit about Cruise: His movies make money. Big, big money.

That’s why there’s such hubbub about the “soft” opening of M:I:III; it “only” made $48 million. True, that’s far less than M:I:II took in during its opening week. In 2000, No. 2 made about $10 million more.

Everyone knows of Cruise’s recent travails, from his strange Oprah couch-jumps of love to his rant against postpartum drugs (and antidepressants in general) to his making Katie Holmes a Scientologist zombie.

But, despite Cruise’s non-stop hawking of M:I:III, the movie didn’t open as well as expected.

Of course, a star’s troubles or actions have hurt films before: from poor Fatty Arbuckle back in the silent days to the latest incarnation of scary Sharon Stone (whose Basic Instinct 2 is already the winner for not only the worst movie of ‘06 but perhaps the sorriest picture of the decade.)

Now, all things are relative. Lots of actors would love to have a “weak” opening of $48 million. Part of the problem of being the most heralded cash acting cow, however, is that you have to come through every time. And, certainly, M:I:III will rake in some big cash - especially worldwide where Cruise is just as beloved.

It’s unlikely that the third movie in the series will equal the take of either of the first two.

No 2, directed by John Woo, was decent (the Movie Man granted it a 6) and No. 1 - despite being a maze of confusion with a goofy ending - was even better, a 7 back in 1996.

What the lukewarm box office means is that M:I:III won’t last nearly as long in the theaters as the creators had hoped, of course. Not that it’ll tank. But M:I:III should begin its slow slide down the charts beginning next week when Poseidon surfaces.

That’s followed by The Da Vinci Code. (Trust the Movie Man here: Just as he correctly predicted the quick disappearance of United 93 [it fell by 55 percent off its opening week], the Movie Man is certain all the hullabaloo from scattered church groups will fall deaf on moviegoers’ ears. Like the Harry Potter movies, conservatives won’t be able to stop the Tom Hanks movie that just could be the biggest one of the summer.) Four weeks ago, the Movie Man made his annual Top 10 Prediction of the Summer. He had M:I:III fifth and Da Vinci No. 6. The Movie Man wished he could drop the former a few notches, now. (The Movie Man will also admit that he might have sold Over the Hedge short.)

The plot

(minor spoilers below)

Agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is out of the field and now training IMF operatives. One especially impresses him, Lindsey (Keri Russell, best known for cutting her long locks on the TV show Felicity, created by M:I:III director J.J. Abrams).

Cruise is getting ready to wed civilian Julia (Michelle Monaghan who looks just like the blonde from TV’s Grey’s Anatomy [Ellen Pompeo]), a risky thing for an IMF employee.

During a party, IMF supervisor Musgrave (Billy Crudup, still looking for his breakout role [check him out in Tim Burton’s Big Fish]), tells Cruise that Russell has disappeared while on the trail of the monstrously evil Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman, fresh off his Capote Oscar).

Cruise assembles a team that includes old computer-whiz pal Luthur (Ving Rhames), transportation expert Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and jack-of-all-trades Zhen (Maggie Q).

Sure enough, they manage to fetch the messed-up Russell - only to have something catastrophic occur as they flee.

Cruise and Crudup take a major dressing down from their superior, Brassel (the terrific Laurence Fishburne). Cruise gets the team back together and manages to pull off a miraculous snatching of Hoffman - from the Vatican!

But even that goes awry and Cruise’s worst fears are realized when Monaghan is imprisoned by Hoffman. Cruise again gathers his IMF pals and they head out to fetch her as well as take down Hoffman. Even when things look peachy, there’s one more big personal problem Cruise nose, er, knows of...

What works

Cruise is great as Ethan Hunt. Like someone who hates Madonna the person but enjoys her music, a human can like Cruise’s films and not care much for him off-screen.

He’s a bona fide movie star and knows how to make his characters believable. Doing many of his own stunts (as we’re told often) helps. Rhames is also super in his role. But it’s Hoffman who creates a great, evil bad guy. He’s thoroughly despicable.

Abrams manages to keep things moving along.

(But see “What doesn’t work.”)

The stunts look good and this is one loud movie - just what Hollywood blockbuster fans seek.

Best scene

This is one of those movies to not be late at. The opening scene, sans credits, is shockingly graphic and intense.

Cruise is strapped to a chair, beaten and bloodied. Across from him, Monaghan is in a bad way, too - except she has Hoffman holding a gun to her noggin.

Hoffman says he’ll count to 10 before blowing her head off. And the countdown begins with Cruise reacting differently - pleading, screaming, thrashing - at each count.

When a red-faced, wild-eyed Hoffman, asking for the ‘rabbit’s foot,” reaches one, the scene stops and a 90 minute flashback begins. It’s effective and thrilling. Too bad the movie can’t hold that momentum.

What doesn’t work

Abrams, who has created the best TV show in decades in Lost, apparently fell in love with the jittery camera of The Blair Witch Project.

Also, for someone lauded for dialogue (like the beloved-by-nerds Joss Whedon), several scenes in M:I:III sound pretty dumb.

Some sequences are too long and need tightening - like the exploding bridge scene.

Rhames deserves more screen time and Maggie Q and Meyers are woefully under-used.

As usual, the plot wends and is full of twists. The big one at the conclusion isn’t too hard to spot.

What is it with helicopters and jets in these movies? They’re everywhere. Again.

The rating

The Movie Man has no problems with M:I:III being a PG-13.

There’s some icky torture - including some nasal jolts - as well as plenty of explosions, some mild language, and very brief sensuality. It’s rated correctly.

Summing up: a 5

Movie Wife - that’s two movies in a row for her! - put it best: “That was just Alias.”

Abrams won acclaim for that Jennifer Garner TV series early on, but it soon got so complicated that most viewers bailed on it.

Some critics have loved M:I:III, however it’s certainly the lesser of the series. Not that the Movie Man wouldn’t mind seeing a fourth. Hoffman is the reason to go see this - and, of course, for Cruise, if you are so inclined.