Mission: Impossible 3 (12A)

ANDREW CLARKE After suffering with the decidedly below par and nonsensical Mission: Impossible 2, it good to report that Tom Cruise's action franchise is back with a bang.


After suffering with the decidedly below par and nonsensical Mission: Impossible 2, it good to report that Tom Cruise's action franchise is back with a bang.

Although, plot-wise, there are echoes from the first film and more than a touch of James Bond and Schwarzenegger's Last Action Hero in a couple of the stunt sequences, it is still an edge-of-the-seat, action-packed thrill ride from start to finish.

It also reintroduces a sense of suspense and mystery into the proceedings - an element that was severely lacking from the last outing.

Tom Cruise returns as Impossible Missions Force top agent Ethan Hunt and this time he's getting married. And if that wasn't adventure enough, he's got to keep his activities as a top agent secret from his wife (who looks like a clone of his real-life partner Katie Holmes) while hunting down a doomsday biological warfare weapon called The Rabbit's Foot.

Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers a largely tongue-in-cheek performance as the bad guy weapons dealer Owen Davian, but every so often this comic book villain displays a flash of real malevolence and it chills the blood.

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But the stunt-filled action sequences are the heart of the film and although they flirt with the boundaries of believability, the sequences, for the most part, stay on the right side of the credibility line - until the climax of the film when the final sequence just dissolves into fantasy.

Cruise volunteered to do the majority of his own stunt work and judging by the evidence on screen it looks as if he certainly leapt across the occasional chasm and scrambled down the side of a vast glass building.

Again, it gives the action some much-needed reality in a movie that is constantly in danger of crossing the line into unbelievability.

The stunt sequences include a spectacular attack on a convoy crossing a double bridge and an amazing helicopter chase through a wind farm in Mexico.

Surprisingly, the film-makers were given permission to actually film inside the Vatican and this amazing, rarely-seen setting, provides the backdrop for one of the most audacious kidnap sequences seen on film. Whether someone could actually stage kidnap this way is beside the point - just sit back and marvel at the imagination and the style on display.

All the quirky trademarks of the original television series - the gadgets and spray-on latex face masks are back all suitably updated for the 21st century.

As part of the story there comes the news that there is a mole inside the IMF which places Ethan and his team in great danger. Although it's a blatant echo of the first film, it is played out quite well and provides an audience with an enjoyable exercise in spotting the double agent.

Ving Rhames is back and provides Cruise with a good foil to bounce off while his romance with fiancée Julia (Michelle Monaghan) provides a human edge which the last film lacked and importantly makes Cruise's hero more vulnerable.

Sadly, Laurence Fishburne doesn't get much to do in a grossly underwritten role as Ethan's crusty by-the-rules boss.

Among the big surprises on the casting front is the presence of Spaced star Simon Pegg as a very nervous Englishman working as a technical officer for IMF and worried constantly about his US citizenship as Cruise gently bullies him into supplying restricted information.

Mission: Impossible 3 is an explosive start to the summer. It is an action-packed start to the blockbuster season and is more than sufficiently entertaining for us to overlook the silly ending and some of the less than original plot elements. A fun night out.



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