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Impossible Spectacle 

Mission Impossible: III is a perfect summer blockbuster movie. From its failed-experiment opening sequence to its sharp dialogue, exotic locations and pure spectacle, this high-test action picture brilliantly weaves around a classic Hitchcock MacGuffin. Tom Cruise excels like an all-star athlete in executing the bulk of the film's impressive stunts while surrounded by a stellar ensemble cast including Michelle Monaghan, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne, Bahar Soomekh and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Writer/director J.J. Abrams achieves something of a minor masterpiece with a postmodern sense of humor and hypnotic infatuation with maintaining multiple layers of emotional and physical suspense in nearly every scene. Fans of the original television series will appreciate Abrams' diligent attention to the series' trademark disguises, clever gadgets and essential self-destructing mission tape.

As the movie begins, and before the credits are through, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) sweats out an intense hostage conversation with uber bad guy and international weapons dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Tension and worry buzzes around the audience as people grumble about whether the projectionist started the movie midway through. The gritty scene onscreen becomes steadily more brutal before cutting away right at its dramatic apex. A match lights a fuse, and the iconic Mission Impossible theme music drives its infectious heart-pounding rhythm into your brain. The seemingly miscued opening flourish announces the director's intent at surprising his audience with visual and narrative illusions designed to stop the viewer in his or her tracks of predicting where the story is going.

Abrams also wants his audience interested in where his characters have been. An inventive piece of screenwriting gives discreet information about exterior and interior aspects of Ethan when, at his engagement party, he describes his job as a traffic analyst to partygoers before subtly affirming an intimate bond with his fianc & eacute;e Julia (Michelle Monaghan) by reading her lips from the next room. Ethan and Julia's romance is contextualized within the passion that the retired agent expresses in his job training new IMF agents, and the audience is taunted into extrapolating on the couple's private relationship as an emotional resource.

Ethan is called away from the love of his life to execute a hostage rescue. When the mission ends with less than 100 percent success, Ethan and his IMF boss John Musgrave (Billy Crudup) are called on the carpet by their organizational head (Laurence Fishburne). Owen Davian is attempting to procure an ostensibly nuclear weapon known only as the "rabbit's foot" -- and Ethan must separate fact from fiction to get the weapon before Davian does.

Mission Impossible: III intensifies its infatuation with panoramic spectacle over a series of visually challenging action episodes that stay with you. A phenomenal helicopter chase scene, set around an electricity windmill farm, is devastatingly captivating. When Ethan is climbing, running or swinging across walls and rooftops in Italy or Shanghai, every camera angle emits sheer joy for the spectacle of seeing Tom Cruise take physical chances that made his insurance company blanch.

Blockbuster movies rarely bend toward character development because they are based on a textbook format. Abrams modernizes the Mission Impossible franchise by taking advantage of every scene to exhibit distinct interior aspects of the characters. Some attempts flounder, as with blunt questions from Luther (Ving Rhames) about Ethan's decision to become a family man, but Abrams' saturation approach gives the onscreen action a naturalistic edge that keeps you engaged.

Abrams lists his filmmaking abilities, as they date back to 1982 on the low-budget horror movie Nightbeast, to include writer, producer, director, actor, composer, miscellaneous crew and sound department. Most impressive is his screenwriting work, which includes such films as Regarding Henry (1991) and Armageddon (1998), and such TV series as Felicity, Alias and Lost.

With all that background in film, Abrams brings the Mission Impossible franchise, and perhaps Hollywood, to another level.

Mission Impossible: III; Rated: PG-13; Written and directed by J.J. Abrams; Starring Tom Cruise, Michelle Monaghan, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames

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