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'Mission Impossible,' Round Three

KENNETH TURAN reporting:

Mission Impossible 3, starring Tom Cruise, is a big-screen movie that plays like two consecutive one-hour TV shows.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION Film Critic, Kenneth Turan.

TURAN: The first hour is standard, but the other is stocked with excitement. Co-writer and director J.J. Abrams, the co-creator of TV's Alias and Lost, has come up with an expertly made piece of entertainment, a diversion which really diverts, once it gets down to business.

Most of the film's first hour is concerned with establishing Cruise's character. He's someone who thinks he can both save the world, and have a normal romantic life with a spouse, ignorant of what he really does. Not quite.

Engaged to be married to the attractive Michelle Monaghan, Cruise's character gets the call for one more mission. It involves a mysterious and extremely unpleasant rabbit's foot, an end-of-the-world-type weapon, sometimes called, the anti-God--not the kind of thing you'd want to fall into the wrong hands.

(Soundbite of movie "Mission Impossible 3")

Mr. TOM CRUISE (Actor): (As Ethan Hunt) I've got the rabbit's foot, but I can't make it to the roof.

Unidentified Man (Actor): What the hell do you mean, you can't make it to the roof. Where are you?

Unidentified man #2 (Actor): Look up! Look up! Look up!

TURAN: Good versus evil films often rise or fall on the strength of the evil doer, and in the Oscar-winning Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mission Impossible 3 has a spectacular actor who delivers some deeply unnerving speeches. Hoffman is expert enough as an extremely dangerous black marketeer, to pretty much, overmatch the star. And he's so good at imparting offbeat but believable menace, the film's tension goes up a critical notch whenever he speaks.

Mr. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN (Actor): (As Owen Davian): Do you have a wife, girlfriend?

Mr. CRUISE: (As Ethan Hunt) It's up to you how this goes.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Owen Davian) Because you know what I'm gonna do next? I'm going to find her. Whoever she is, I'm going to find her and I'm going to hurt her.

Mr. CRUISE: (As Ethan Hunt) I'm going to ask you one more time.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Owen Davian) What's your name?

Mr. CRUISE: (As Ethan Hunt) What is a rabbit's foot?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Owen Davian) Who are you?

Mr. CRUISE: (As Ethan Hunt) And who's the buyer?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Owen Davian) You don't have any idea what the hell's going on, do you?

TURAN: As for Cruise, the characters he plays can be difficult to humanize. The secret agent and his cohorts do all kinds of running and jumping, but very little standing still. Encrypted micro-dots and explosive charges implanted in people's heads do their worst, and more folks jump through plate glass windows than you can imagine.

On the other hand, Cruise does do his own stunts here, including getting blown across a bridge by an explosion and jumping off an 80-foot building. Now, that has to count for something. His gaze may be high-gloss, but under Abrams's proficient direction, Cruise gets the job done and that is mission impossible enough for any man.

(Soundbite of "Mission Impossible" theme)

YDSTIE: Film critic Kenneth Turan reviews for The Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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