Endless Vanity: Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible III (2006)

Picture, if you will, 126 minutes of Tom Cruise working hard to redeem himself of all of public mockery he earned for his sofa-jumping antics during the promotion of The War of the Worlds. Tom produced Mission Impossible III. He appears in every scene. Director J.J. Abrams, the creator of Lost, obliges Tom’s megalomania by keeping his face locked in extreme close-up for much of the film. Do you really want to see Tom’s beady-eyed and blank intensity for that length of time? Tom was 43 years old when the film was released. He obviously works out for these roles; he can run fast, he has a full head of hair, and he keeps his teeth very white. Mr. Cruise has done some good work in his day, lampooning his smug go-getter persona in The Rain Man, and co-starring with Philip Seymour Hoffman in Magnolia as a ridiculous male-empowerment guru, but Mission Impossible 3 arrives like a loud bad dream of many blockbuster juggernauts to come.

What are some of the basic elements of today’s blockbuster? Lots of torture, a ferociously short attention span, wasted bankable young stars, time-released explosive charges implanted in people’s noses, and loud set-piece scenes where lots of stuff gets blown up. Trash movies like Running Scared create drama by constantly menacing a young child. Here, MI-III routinely menaces beautiful young women by tying them to chairs and threatening to shoot them in the head. In the film’s hook, Philip Seymour Hoffman as international weapons dealer Owen Davian tells a tied-up Ethan Hunt (Cruise) that he had better tell him where the rabbit’s foot is right now or he will kill his wife Julia on the count of 10. During the count, we get to see Tom freak out, cry, and generally try to talk his way out of the situation, but then (blast it!) Owen shoots the girl anyway, and then it’s time for a flashback. Cut to Ethan at a fun pre-nuptial party with his magically restored beautiful snub-nosed babe Michelle Monaghan. As macho Tom strolls about the crowd in a blue t-shirt and jeans, various admiring women say they would marry him, but a special coded phone call obliges him to decamp to the local 7-11 where Agent John (Billy Crudup) tells him over his shoulder that there’s another female agent who just got kidnapped by Owen Davian. Would he like to go help her escape? Ethan reminds John that he’s semi-retired, but then John shows Ethan a special disposable Kodak Flash camera that conveys top secret information about the kidnapped girl before it self-destructs with a little puff of smoke, and Ethan is on his way.

Suddenly, the scene shifts to Berlin, and Ethan has his trusty team of impossible mission experts helping him take over a moonlit factory where yet another beautiful young woman named Lindsey (Keri Russell) lies bound and beaten in a chair. With the help of Ving Rhames and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ethan gradually infiltrates the compound, blows up large parts of the building, and then injects the young female agent with adrenaline to wake her up from whatever drugs the bad guys have forced upon her. Ethan and Lindsey then manage to shoot their way out and jump onto a truck that drives them to a helicopter, but Ethan notices that she has a time-released explosive charge about to go off in her nose, so he uses a fibrillator to try to save her in the midst of a helicopter chase scene through large windmills.

In a film that rarely pauses, Tom gets to jump over newly exploded holes in bridges, swing up over Shanghai skyscrapers at night, and break into the Vatican so he can wear Jesuit robes. Best actor Oscar winner Hoffman does not really have to act at all, but he does have to dangle out of a jet at one point as Ethan throws a fit. As you might have guessed from the hook, Julia gets kidnapped from her hospital, and then in his devoted way, Ethan really gets mad.

Ultimately, Ethan’s easy competency at enacting impossible missions makes them not only possible, but dull. We watch Mr. Cruise admire himself in an action-packed mirror, which also serves as good pr to counteract Tom-ridicule in movies such as Scary Movie 4. One way or another, the man continues to get attention, and after awhile one even gets tired of hearing others say they are tired of Tom Cruise.