Tom Cruise wants to make his hundreds of millions, but he wants you to love him too. That may account for the weirdly bipolar Mission Impossible III, scudding into four thousand theaters on Friday, May 5. On one hand it's a sinister, cynical thriller filled with torture and betrayal, one that opens with a brutal murder that gets re-staged two more times. On the other hand, it's a film in which women ogle Cruise's body (purely as mate material, mind you), strangers tearily applaud his marriage, and he dies and comes back as the perfect husband.
Even within the fantasy rules of Hollywood thrillers, M:i:III is out there. It's set in a world where elaborate missions can be outfitted in two hours, which assumes a world-wide network of spy clearinghouses supplying Batman cable ascenders, night vision goggles, armor-plated SUVs, unlimited rounds of ammo, and complete blueprints for every building on earth. It's also a world in which nothing ever goes wrong. The jackknifed trailer passes harmlessly over the body lying prone in the street. The street vendor, the elderly retiree reading a paper on a deck chair, the woman hanging laundry don't accidentally block the hero running down an alley to a rendezvous. The door doesn't stick, the car doesn't stall, the gun doesn't jam, the wind doesn't pick up, the guard isn't suspicious, the mask doesn't slip. Fair enough here and there, but all the time? Hitchcock made entire movies about mistakes, quirks, faults. Here nothing ever fails, for good guys or bad. In the real world, in John Woo's world, in Jackie Chan's world, heck, in Richard Donner's world no one would have made it out of this movie alive.
Yes, it's a fantasy escapist adventure that spans the globe, shows off high-tech gizmos, and blows up the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. But did anyone stop to think what this movie was about? That the character played by Cruise betrays his country with the deadliest something-or-other in the world in order to save his wife, a nurse who knows nothing about his background? Because she's young and innocent, as he explains to the fellow traitor played by Ving Rhames. Only Cruise turns her into a killer anyway, before bringing her around to the office to show her off. So exactly what were his motives?
And what about the scenes they didn't write? (Ask the dust, MiII screenwriter Robert Towne might say.) Like how Cruise steals the whatsits, or how he escapes from the IMF HQ (unless pretending that it's connected to the Department of Transportation by air-conditioning ducts counts as an explanation). Not that it matters. Moviegoers will choose this over Poseidon or whatever other recycled junk is playing in the other cineplexes. But those same moviegoers will continue to drift away, one by one, to more entertaining pastimes as box-office revenues spiral downward.