Friday, May 05, 2006


Do Art House Devotees Dream of Mission: Impossible III?

Summer doldrums, as far as art film fans are concerned, means a four-month string of Hollywood blockbusters loud enough to shake beloved French auteur Louis Malle from his grave. ‘The Da Vinci Code’, ‘Superman Returns’ and a big-screen adaptation of ’80s TV show ‘Miami Vice’ soak up all the media attention. The upshot is that larger crowds at the multiplexes means smaller lines and less hassle at art house cinemas committed to truly independent programming. Going to watch director John Hillcoat’s gritty Western ‘The Proposition’ while elsewhere, mobs jostle for seats at the remake of ‘The Poseidon Adventure’, is like being a member of an exclusive club. Being part of small crowds is a badge of coolness.
Still, once in awhile, everyone needs a change of pace, even the most ardent indie film buff. They crave the movie equivalent of a candy bar – a quick sugary rush. These fans want entertainment free of any intellectual engagement. They want to relive their childhood movie-going experiences. But does this mean they want ‘Mission: Impossible III’?

A solid opening scene between boyish spy Ethan Hunt (the eternally youthful Tom Cruise) and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s menacing black market arms dealer, Owen Davian, leads skeptics to accept ‘Mission: Impossible III’ as a clever espionage tale worthy of the beloved TV show.
But the impossible missions leading up to Hunt’s entrapment unload redundant noise, smoke, sparks, gunfire and broken glass. Writer/director J.J. Abrams, a TV it boy thanks to his popular castaways drama ‘Lost,’ shows little improvement on his less successful small screen spy adventure ‘Alias’. When it comes to spy-on-spy adventures, ‘Mission: Impossible III’ has half the spark of Steven Spielberg’s recent terrorist drama ‘Munich’.
The film’s standout moments include supporting turns by Billy Crudup and Laurence Fishburne as agency administrators who question Hunt’s loyalty, British comedian Simon Pegg’s light-hearted performance as an agency techno geek and some welcome glances at Hunt’s everyday life.
On the action side, highlights include a helicopter chase through a field of hi-tech windmills and a mission inside the Vatican in order to kidnap Hoffman’s arms dealer.
Credit Cruise for an action man performance steady enough to keep his celebrity gossip piled outside theaters.
But it’s Hoffman, Oscar winner for Capote and longtime favorite of indie film fans, who stands out as the main reason moviegoers who shun multiplexes may give ‘Mission: Impossible III’ a chance. They’ll leave unimpressed. Outside of Hoffman’s scenes, there’s little about ‘Mission: Impossible III’ to recommend as exceptional. But maybe these art house devotees will try one more blockbuster before summer ends, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest’ or ‘Superman Returns’. The lesson of Hoffman, as earnestly serious as any American actor, is that it’s OK to lighten up and take a blockbuster break. Just choose your blockbusters more carefully.

Paramount Pictures releases 'Mission: Impossible III' nationwide on May 5.

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