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Thursday, May 4, 2006 03:15 pm

Three times a charm

The Mission gets even more Impossible

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I wasn’t impressed with the big-screen adaptation of Mission: Impossible and its sequel. Director Brian De Palma’s take on Ethan Hunt and his Impossible Missions Force was needlessly convoluted and employed so many plot twists and turns that it made a Slinky look like an exercise in linear design by comparison. Even though John Woo’s follow-up was easier to understand, in the end it was nothing more than a souped-up remake of Hitchcock’ far superior Notorious that used slow-motion photography and conspicuous flocks of doves to accentuate its overwrought action scenes. In the end, both of these films underperformed, with both directors using cinematic smoke and mirrors to cover up the obvious: Their films were nothing but exercises in style with very little substance. For the inevitable third part of the series, Tom Cruise tapped veteran TV director J.J. Abrams of Alias and Lost fame to try to make a film worthy of the classic show. Not only did Abrams have the law of diminishing returns playing against them, he also had to contend with the public’s perception of his film’s star. Cruise may be the most popular film actor in the world, but there’s no question that his reputation has taken its hits, with recent over-the-top displays of affection for his new bride and his tendency to preach the virtues of Scientology. Abrams’ mission, which he chose to accept, was to make a successful action film to rejuvenate Cruise’s career, show that he is ready to helm megabudget big-screen movies, and provide a decent escapist vehicle for the masses. Mission accomplished. Although it will never be confused for high art, MI3 is a worthy and distinctive entry in the already overcrowded action-film arena that manages to improve on the first two parts of the series by adhering to some basic rules of the genre. Abrams and co-writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman not only finally give Hunt a worthy villain with whom to go mano-a-mano, they also lend a degree of gravity to the proceedings by delving into Hunt’s personal life and giving our hero a genuine reason to risk life and limb at various exotic locations around the globe. The result is a full-throttle start to the summer film season that the competition will be hard pressed to top. The film is plot-heavy, but it is never purposely confusing, as the first movie was, and is constantly moving forward, building a head of steam with each of its increasingly fantastic set pieces. Abrams and his cast and crew go all out to top themselves throughout the movie, and they succeed handsomely, delivering the sort of thrills and excitement that once were the cornerstones of the James Bond films. A helicopter chase through a field of modern windmills gives way to an eimprssive kidnapping scene behind the walls of the Vatican that is topped by magnificent ambush on a bridge. All of these sequences are elaborate, bone-rattling moments that would be the highlight of any normal action film, but Cruise has always been one who lives to push boundaries, and the scenes in this movie are no exception.

Also in theaters this week. . .
Akeelah & The Bee [PG-13] The nail-biting world of spelling bees gains a spirited contender when Akeelah Anderson from southern Los Angeles sets her eyes on the prize. ShowPlace East
An American Haunting [PG-13] Documented as the first death of a human caused by a spirit, the story of a 19th century Tennessee family and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of their daughter. ShowPlace East
The Benchwarmers [PG-13] A trio of middle-aged has-beens forms a baseball team to compete against area Little League teams in a feeble attempt to gain some dignity. ShowPlace West, Route 66 Drive-In
Hoot [PG] Three middle-school kids take a stand against some foul play regarding a group of endangered owls. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
Ice Age: The Meltdown [PG] The Ice Age is officially over and Diego, Manny and Sid must alert the others before the ice melts and the valley is destroyed. ShowPlace West
R.V. [PG] The Munro family try their luck at an old-fashioned family camping trip to the Rockies, but a group of cracked campers beat them to the punch. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
The Sentinel [PG-13] Special Agent Pete Garrison is determined to nail a traitor before the president of the United States gets hit. ShowPlace West
Silent Hill [R] On a road trip to help save her ailing daughter, Rose Da Silva stops in Silent Hill, a desolate town with an evil presence. Rose’s daughter goes missing, but in Silent Hill things aren’t always as they seem. ShowPlace West, Route 66 Drive-In
Stick It [PG-13] Rebellious Haley leaves her life of trouble after a clash with the police to return to a prim and polished existence as a top gymnast with the celebrated coach, Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges). ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
Take the Lead [PG-13] Ballroom dancer Pierre Dulane takes on a bunch of New York City school kids, and when the footwork of ballroom and hip-hop collide, a new style is born. White Oaks
United 93 [R] The story of the men and women on the fourth hijacked plane, United 93, that didn’t reach its target on 9/11. ShowPlace West
The Wild [G] A young lion departs from New York Zoo for the vast lands of Africa leaving behind a few friends who are determined to get him back. ShowPlace West, Route 66 Drive-In
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