All hail ‘Mission’

Kyle Smith

The best action movies suspend disbelief. This does not refer to the film’s ridiculous stunts and leaps of logical reason that result in the cheap simplicity of “Whatever, it’s a popcorn movie,” but rather to defeating the audience’s rote expectations of what an action movie should do. In this regard, Mission: Impossible III deserves some kudos for opening with a genuinely alarming scenario: Noted psychopath Philip Seymour Hoffman (named Owen Davian, a boarding school-worthy moniker befitting the blond, pristine Hoffman) threatening to kill agent Ethan Hunt’s wife, Julia.

Right as it seems something truly edgy and transcendent will occur, however, co-writer/director J.J. Abrams jumps back to Julia and Ethan’s engagement party, beginning the predictable international rat race to return to the film’s dark moment. Abrams’ greatest strength is his storytelling, which is contrary to the entire Mission: Impossible film franchise’s almost exclusive role as an avenue of style for noted purveyors of the past, like Brian de Palma and John Woo. Their installments were uniformly unsatisfactory but were centered around still-remarkable action setpieces.

The problem with Abrams’ honorable angle is that it’s very difficult to take M:i:III as a serious continuation of the other films, especially in the way it discards women like a Bond movie but still wants us to believe there’s some Merchant/Ivory shit going on between Michelle Monaghan and Tom Cruise. I’m not asking for much here, and I’m more than willing to go along for the ride, but Abrams’ gooey tender moments between the couple made me long for a handful of popcorn I could chomp on judiciously to the annoyment of those around me.

M:i:III operates as a standard international thriller, with Cruise and Co. leapfrogging the planet with nary a hesitation. I suppose it’s cool to go from Berlin to Shanghai, but it’s also dumb. When Hunt needs to break into a Shanghai skyscraper with a slanted roof, I could think only of Adventures in Babysitting when the little girl with the Thor helmet slides down a Chicago skyscraper. The scenes really aren’t all that different.

Tom Cruise co-produced and stars in the film, proving the entire M:I franchise may be the most ludicrous exercise in vanity ever constructed. One particularly offensive scene features a long take Cruise’s chiseled, black shirt-clad operative sprinting through a Shanghai alley. Reminding us of our heroes’ physical prowess is nothing new to the action genre, nor are superstars innocent of flaunting their power on screen. But where Schwarzenegger flexes and Mel Gibson gets tortured, Cruise prides himself as a paragon of male fitness. No wonder he has been hounded by rumors of homosexuality his entire career.

Which, of course, brings us to Cruise the man. I have nothing to say regarding Katie Holmes (though the casting of fellow WB starlet Keri Russell in M:i:III suggests that Cruise may soon be involved with the cast of 7th Heaven), but Cruise’s larger-than-life public life certainly intrudes on his work. At no moment in M:i:III do I even consider whether or not Cruise is a good actor, whether his character is believable, whether his movie is plausible or even interesting. Most of M:i:III, inseparable from its star/producer/ head cheerleader, is just eye candy. For most people, that’s enough; but when I’m willing to insult myself and pretend Tom Cruise can sneak into the Vatican, I deserve some sort of reward.

I suppose my criticisms of M:i:III end there, mainly because Philip Seymour Hoffman is in the movie. There are two great moments involving Hoffman’s character, who is some sort of arms dealer trafficking biological weapons to countries and terrorists that presumably want to kill Americans. I think that’s the subtext. It’s not even remotely clear.

The first scene is when Hoffman captures Julia and tells Hunt he has 48 hours to retrieve the mysterious “Rabbit’s Foot” or he will kill Julia. Hunt and his team immediately go into action – like, within seconds – completely assuming Hoffman is crazy enough to kill Julia in precisely 48 hours (at one point, Cruise frets over the twelve minutes he has left). When the good guys are this scared, it’s hard for the audience to not play along.

Late in the film, there is a moment that might as well be from the climactic mattress-store showdown in Punch-Drunk Love: Protagonist discovers that “I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine,” to which Hoffman responds with a shrug that says, “The fuck you talkin’ about?”

Hoffman defies all genre tropes by his immaterial being. He’s the perfect catalyst to the all-filler/no-killer Cruise, proving that an unpredictable villain can rescue an otherwise-doomed film.

Communication senior Kyle Smith is a PLAY columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]