New ‘Mission’ proves series does fine on Cruise control

“Mission: Impossible III”

Paramount Pictures

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Written by Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci

Starring: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Monaghan, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup and Laurence Fishburne

Rated PG-13/126 minutes

Opened May 5, 2006

Three-and-a-half out of four stars

Aaron Allen

The Daily Utah Chronicle

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to see through a year’s worth of couch-hopping and Katie-smooching and admit that Tom Cruise is one hell of an action hero.

He is, and always has been, an actor of earnest intensity-which was just fine with America until he aimed that impassioned beam of surety at the one emotion that already makes us act like idiots: love.

So while Cruise’s public life threatens to self-destruct in five seconds, his on-screen fuse burns long and bright in the smoking hot “Mission: Impossible 3.” He breathlessly leaps back into the role of Ethan Hunt, the only super-spy in movie history who could run a decathlon without breaking a sweat. He’s James Bond turned jock, dashing from one explosive action scene to the next-only this time, the stakes are personal.

A wicked arms dealer named Owen Davian (played with vicious matter-of-factness by Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman) kidnaps Ethan’s wife (Michelle Monaghan) and uses her life as leverage to force Ethan to steal the Rabbit’s Foot, a device that does ?something?possibly devastating. We don’t know and we don’t care. It’s what Hitchcock called a McGuffin-something that everyone wants and what drives the story forward.

Behind the camera is veteran TV whiz J.J. Abrams, creator of “Lost” and “Alias.” He borrows the humanity of the former and the crafty espionage of the latter, lending “M:I 3” a cool context that’s compelling on both the action and the human fronts. There are no characterizations here that rise above the level of a really good comic book, but it’s nice for a change to see a guy leap from a skyscraper to save his wife instead of for the sake of thievery (he does it for both, actually).

“M:I 3” has more in common with the team dynamics from the first flick than it does with the lone wolf daring-do from the second. In part one, there was a mystery to be solved, no matter how hopelessly convoluted it was. In part two, we essentially watched the good guy and the bad guy compare their units for two hours.

There’s nothing in “M:I 3” that compares to the classic Langley heist in the original, but there is a tightly cut hit-and-swap at the Vatican that gives each team member his or her moment to shine. Back in action is Ving Rhames, joined by newcomers Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Maggie Q.

Of course, everyone is secondary to Cruise, who sweats, leaps, fights, bleeds and cries through every scene he’s in (not necessarily at the same time?but you’d be surprised). I’m not so much impressed that Cruise did his own stunts as I am amazed that he didn’t pop a vein in his head while mustering up all the intensity for his performance.

It’s intensity well spent when aimed at anything but couches.