*. Do you ever read those notices that come with a film’s rating? I sometimes wonder if they’re taken from a generic list or if someone actually writes original copy for the warnings that go in the little box. For Mission: Impossible III we get the following: “Intense scenes of frenetic violence and menace.”
*. The reason I mention this, aside from it being kind of cute in its laconic way, is that it made me think of director J. J. Abrams. In the first two Mission: Impossible movies the directors — Brian De Palma for Mission: Impossible and John Woo for Mission: Impossible II — were known for their signature styles. Indeed I think they were hired in large part for their style. Which brings us to Abrams (David Fincher had been the first choice, which would have taken the conversation in a different direction I’m sure). Tom Cruise had been binge-watching Alias and was “blown away.” For his part, Abrams was ready to make the jump from TV and go on to become one of the biggest names in franchise filmmaking in the twenty-first century. Bu what is the Abrams style? I wonder if we can do any better than “Intense scenes of frenetic violence and menace.”
*. Well, maybe we can add a bit to that. Abrams is an action director and he knows how to keep things moving. I don’t really think of him as setting up specific action sequences, as the action has an almost seamless flow throughout most of his films. Put another way, it’s common to describe the story in such movies as just a laundry line to hang the stunts and explosions on but in Mission: Impossible III the line is so flimsy as to be only a thread. There’s a MacGuffin in the form of something called the Rabbit’s Foot but we never even find out what the hell it is. Now that’s a MacGuffin! There’s a good turn by Philip Seymour Hoffman (again not a first choice) as the villain, but who the hell is he anyway? He’s just the villain, meaning the guy who wants the MacGuffin. No attempt is made to flesh any of this out. All we do is run, run, run from place to place.
*. Which leaves us with the stunts and explosions. If this is the real Abrams then it’s pretty generic, something that has probably contributed to his becoming such an in-demand director. As David Edelstein observed in his review of this film, “he [Abrams] doesn’t have much personality of his own to get in the way.” But it looks great. Or it looks really expensive. It’s curious though that the climactic fight between Ethan Hunt and Davian is so low rent, especially compared to earlier scenes like the helicopter chase through the windmills and the final battles at the end of the previous movies. Perhaps they were running short of cash. Stranger things have happened.
*. The action picks up some time well after the last movie, with Ethan Hunt settled down as an agent trainer and even thinking of getting hitched. Why Tom Cruise keeps playing a romantic lead is beyond me. As I’ve remarked many times before, he is determinedly asexual. He is incapable of projecting sexuality. But I guess part of the burden of being a leading man is being able to pull your shirt off in a sexy way and make love up against a wall.
*. In the face of all this breathless action there isn’t much time for carping. It’s very slick. Once it gets going it doesn’t take its foot off the gas. Things blow up “real good,” as they used to say on SCTV’s Farm Film Report. People go flying through the air. Tom Cruise still isn’t much in the acting department, but then Ethan Hunt isn’t really a character in any meaningful sense. We visit some exotic locales, see some expensive cars, and wind up pretty much right where we started. Ready to reload and go again.