They say that the third time is the charm.  Whoever “they” is, if they were referring to the Mission: Impossible series, I would have to agree.
After a decent film in Brian DePalma’s original and a mediocre one in John Woo’s super-stylized sequel, first-time feature film director J.J.
Abrams has stepped up and delivered a fun and engaging action thriller that falls just short of excellence.

Abrams is the creator of the Alias TV series and uses many of his old tricks that worked so effectively on that program.  Namely, he provides
humanization for Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt.  We see his life outside the mission, something neither of the previous films bothered with.  
Hunt is engaged to his girlfriend, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), and by all signs is losing his interest in the whole espionage gig.  Of course,
his career is firmly hidden from his fiancée and when we fully sympathize with his complicated situation, the film goes into overdrive.

Although the plot is certainly adequate, it’s the frantically spectacular action sequences that are most memorable.  Abrams’ is quite good at
maintaining an excited pace without going too far over the top with wacky camerawork.  There are a lot of thrilling moments that I won’t give
away.  It really is the kind of movie where you can’t help but smile and look to the person next to you with glee at the spectacle of the
gadgets, stunts, and, of course, the schemes.

The best sequence in the film is the kidnapping of the bad guy, Davian (portrayed by a slimy and deliciously evil Phillip Seymour Hoffman),
from the Vatican.  The multi-faceted plan is pure espionage magic and will probably end up being one of the best film moments of this year.

I should also mention Michael Giacchino’s excellent score which is tender when it needs to be, bombastic when it has to be, and even more
importantly, capable of perfectly integrating Lalo Schifrin’s classic themes without blaringly loud electric guitar.  I’m looking at you, Hans

Where Mission: Impossible III falters is in the conclusion.  It just isn’t as good as everything that came before it.  It devolves into clichéd
action film territory and loses the tension and surprises that made it so fresh.  There is seriousness to the relationship between Hunt and
Julia built up early on that is somewhat superficially handled later on.  In fact, the ending borders on being cheesy.

However, M:i:III is still well worth seeing.  For about eighty percent of its running time it is great popcorn movie entertainment.  This mission
is worth taking even if, in the very end, it does self-destruct.

* * *
(out of four)
Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Written by: Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci & J.J. Abrams

Starring: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving
Rhames, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan

Cinematography by: Dan Mindel

Music by: Michael Giacchino

Released: May 5, 2006; 126 Minutes