Crammed with explosions, daring stunts and — lest we forget — Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible III is just what you'd expect from a film sequel based on a now-defunct television show about secret spies.
Directed by J.J. Abrams (Lost, Alias) — who Paramount also tapped to head its next Star Trek picture — Mission: Impossible III is both fast-paced and somewhat predictable, but still stands out as the best in the action film's franchise.
Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt, the inexorable agent of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), who's traded in his piece of the world-saving action to sit on the sidelines, content to train new recruits and start a personal life of his own.
But when an operation goes awry and his beloved Julia (Michelle Monaghan) is nabbed by the international arms dealer Owen Davian (Academy Award winner Philip SeymourHoffman), Ethan and a new team conspire not only to save her, but recover the inevitable weapon of mass destruction.
All else aside, Abrams is successful in allowing viewers two hours to forget all theCruise-Katie Holmes-baby Suri craziness that seems to have dominated the headlines for months. But Mission: Impossible III also benefits from his honed style of storytelling, which will likely satisfy fans of his Alias and Lost television series.
It's unsettling how boyish Cruise still appears, but it must be from all the running he does in the film. In his latest turn as Ethan Hunt, Cruise has more room to maneuver to show the private lives of secret spies. It's a pity he doesn't use it more, though a late scene in which he compares reloading a gun to the kitchen flashlight batteries is priceless.
The film's supporting cast of characters - the team's now familiar Luther (Ving Rhames) as well as newcomers Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q) - get a refreshing spotlight, which almost frees Mission: Impossible III from its all-Cruise, all-the-time feel. But only almost.
Hoffman reigns as the heartless Davian, though why he's so bad, what he's after, and what he'll do with it once he's got it still plagues me.
One casting gem is Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead), who appears as computer expert Benji and brings some much-needed flair to the pervading tongue-in-cheek humor throughout the film.
Abrams also squeezes in a reference to the first suspense-filled Mission: Impossible film, hanging Cruise at the end of cables like some sort of crime-fighting marionette.But his other stabs at suspense seem forced - lots of running, some slow motion and the invariable music theme.
The plot twists may be predictable, but Mission: Impossible III is satisfying where it should be and is a mission worthy of accepting.
(Paramount Pictures' Mission: Impossible III opens today. Running time: 126 minutes, Rated: PG-1III.)