Not long before his death, Greg Morris saw the first "Mission: Impossible" movie and hated it so much he walked out halfway through. I didn't. Walk out, that is. But I disliked it for much the same reasons he did - for all the razzle-dazzle, it was NOT "Mission: Impossible." And neither is "Mission: Impossible III" (I've never seen the second one, but I doubt it's any closer to the real thing); it's more like "Alias: The Movie," which may well be what Paramount hired J.J. Abrams for in his debut as a big-screen director, but it's not right somehow.
Not only does it have a lot of stylistic similarity - both this movie and quite a few episodes of "Alias" open with our hero in grave danger followed by an extended flashback to how this came about, both feature extended slow motion, both have Greg Grunberg, and so on - but you can draw parallels between the characters, making it two summers in a row that Abrams' co-writers and "Alias" alumni Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have been called on this (remember last year's "The Island"?).
Ethan Hunt is Sydney Bristow (although unlike Sydney, Ethan is really just a cipher - and unlike Jennifer Garner, Tom Cruise never really projects any kind of warmth or anything to make you root for him), his superior officer Brassel is APO director Chase crossed with Jack Bristow (and lets Laurence Fishburne have the best line in the film - "Please don't interrupt me when I'm asking rhetorical questions"), rookie agent Lindsay Ferris is Rachel Gibson (a wasted Keri Russell, and it's to be hoped that Rachel doesn't meet the fate that greets poor Lindsay), Davian is a less complex Arvin Sloane (Philip Seymour Hoffman, stealing the movie and making me regret there wasn't more of him), the never-really-explained Rabbit's Foot is the Rambaldi device, the guy played by Simon Pegg is Marshall, Ethan's fiancée Julie is Sydney's fiancé in the pilot, and so on. They even have the place names on screen. Frankly, I'm surprised the Bad Robot logo doesn't come along at the end (surprised, and relieved... that thing is scary!).
But what this doesn't take from "Alias" and "Lost" is the willingness to really go for broke, or indeed the complete and utter absorption; "Mission: Impossible III" is never unwatchable, but it doesn't really catch fire either - good setpieces, but the climax is something of a damp squib compared to the Vatican break-in or the assault on the bridge; the echoes of what has come before + lack of human feeling = no real investment. (Ironically, the two moments that really strike home are among the simplest - the scene in the helicopter after rescuing Lindsay, and a brief bit in Shanghai where our hero is trying to get the Rabbit's Foot in the road.) Of course, humanity wasn't what the original show was about either, but it WAS about building suspense - this doesn't for the most part, and it also doesn't cut much mustard when compared to almost any episode of "Alias."
For the most part the cast (Hoffman, Pegg, Fishburne, Russell, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Maggie Q etc) are free of blame, and Michael Giacchino's score (though not as good as Danny Elfman's) is fine. But while the movie doesn't self-destruct, I wouldn't mind disavowing it... though if it hadn't been called "Mission: Impossible III" I may have had kinder thoughts.
Oh, and Kanye West should be shot.
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