You can tell a lot about an action movie from its "in-between stuff" -- the plot, the tone, the characters, etc. (Basically anything that doesn't involve the action bits.) I find that most action flicks have really boring "in-between stuff" -- and that includes movies from Rambo and Commando to Jack Ryan and James Bond. And it's doubly true of the previous Mission: Impossible movies, which are not much more than 8 or 9 excellent action sequences enveloped by a whole lot of densely-plotted nonsense. So as a guy who maintains a "take 'em or leave 'em" perspective where the MI movies are concerned, I was pleasantly surprised to notice that the second sequel had some pretty watchable "in-between stuff" -- and the action moments are undeniably cool.
Tom Cruise is back as the unkillable Ethan Hunt, mega-spy superstar presently living undercover as a traffic engineer with a painfully adorable kewpie doll of a fiancee. When an old colleague is kidnapped in Germany, Ethan reluctantly heads back into action, which forces him to butt heads with a devious black market arms dealer.
That's it. Anything else that director J.J. Abrams tries to offer you, plot-wise, you can simply ignore. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bastards, and pretty soon there's going to be chases, gunfights, and explosions galore. Really flashy ones, too.
MI3's screenplay (from Abrams and screenwriting duo Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman) gets just a little bit convoluted on occasion, but moviegoers who are familiar with Impossible Missions 1 & 2 will no doubt recognize Abrams' efforts to streamline and "uncomplicate" Hunt's third adventure. Plus it's not like we're given a whole lot of down-time between the kinetic action craziness. Set pieces involving a bridge in Virginia, a skyscraper in Shanghai, a warehouse in Germany, and a Vatican in Rome are juicily entertaining ... even if the audience is forced to play catch-up throughout most of the espionage. (Abrams, unlike most blockbuster-helmers, seems happy to assume his audience is at least half-intelligent.)
Scattered amidst the high-end action displays are an eclectic mix of familiar faces. Cruise is front and center, make no mistake, but actors like Laurence Fishburne, Billy Crudup, Ving Rhames, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are allowed to toss some spice into the stew. And if dangerous ladies are your cup of tea, you'll undoubtedly get a kick out the contributions of Maggie Q and Keri Russell. Hell, even the willowy damsel (Michelle Monaghan) gets into the action and delivers a few satisfying little moments. Toss in an oilishly entertaining performance from the villainous Philip Seymour Hoffman and a geeky little cameo from Simon Pegg, and you've got a cast that's probably worth a $9.00 movie ticket, regardless of all the ultra-flashy action spots.
It's not deep or particularly brilliant, but it moves like a bullet, and it's the very best of the series so far. Mr. Abrams displays a nifty knack for balancing kinetic craziness and character-based quirk, and his debut feature turns out to be a mindlessly appealing piece of expensive escapism that I wouldn't mind seeing again. And as far as the Mission Impossible movies are concerned, that would be a first for me.
(Review reprinted from eFilmCritic.com.)