Friday, May 05, 2006

In which Felicity becomes an assassin

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You'll like Mission: Impossible III exactly as much as you like Tom Cruise. If you can ignore the new whackjob public persona and enjoy him as an action star, you might be okay. If you can't put those new, negative feelings away, you're going to be miserable.

Because even though the film is much more generous with its characters that aren't Ethan Hunt (Cruise), the media's relentless focus on Cruise over the last two years makes the film All About Him.

It's a shame too. Because first-time feature director J.J. Abrams has crafted a pretty fun little spy movie. I dare say that if anyone but Cruise were at the center of this film (say, Matt Damon), the film would be hailed as a masterful piece of popcorn entertainment. It has plenty of flaws and not enough Philip Seymour Hoffman (more on him in a moment), but it's a fun way to kick off a season of mindless entertainment.

Perhaps the film's biggest flaw is Abrams' inability to see the cinematic canvas as a unique one from the television canvas. Where fellow TV-geek auteur Joss Whedon expanded his vision (and pulled off some cinematic sweep) when he made his feature directing debut, Abrams sticks mostly to the bag of tricks he honed to perfection on Alias. It's not that that bag of tricks is a bad one, but it's one that's largely designed to obscure minimal budget and allow for maximum emotional impact on a minimal screen. And that means lots and lots of close-ups.

Close-ups in and of themselves are not such a big deal. They're just such a big part of Abrams' cinematic vocabulary that they start to obscure the larger picture (some of the action scenes become unnecessarily chaotic as a result). Where Whedon found some cinematic sweep on a MUCH smaller budget, Abrams falls back on his television grammar a bit too often.

But that's a minor complaint. The script is goofy fun (and doesn't take itself too seriously). The action sequences are all pretty well executed. And Philip Seymour Hoffman makes a WONDERFUL bad guy. He should seriously consider playing these parts more often.

And Keri Russell is gorgeous.

I've heard complaints that the relationship stuff is forced (and I'm not as enamored with Michelle Monaghan as Hollywood is, obviously). But I think it grounds the film in a larger reality, which is something the MI series has lacked. If the producers had cast Russell as the wife, things might have worked better, since she and Cruise have FAR more chemistry.

But, once again, this movie is all on Cruise's shoulders. Those close-ups? Of Cruise. Those action sequences? Focused on Cruise. The guy Philip Seymour Hoffman kicks the crap out of? Cruise.

So if you've got serious problems with the Cruiser, skip this one. All in all, though, Abrams and his crew have figured out a way to reinvigorate a franchise that never really knew what it was. It's a shame that it's all going to fall apart because an unstable man jumped on a couch.

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