Written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci and adapted from the popular 1960s TV series starring Peter Graves, Barbara Bain and Martin Landau, the third big-screen Mission: Impossible returns Tom Cruise to his own private Rambo. In this chapter, Cruise's Ethan Hunt has retired to a training job. The greatest impossible mission agent who ever lived (Peter Graves' James Phelps could hide, but he could not run), now teaches others how to accomplish the spectacularly unconvincing. It's unclear how long Ethan's been out of the field, but he has trained up agent Lindsey Ferris (Keri Russell) whom he loves like a sister. Equally important for what's about to develop, he's concocted a cover that he's a boring transportation engineer and gone gushy over a beautiful nurse named Julia (Michelle Monaghan) to whom he's betrothed. Julia's guy friends think Ethan's kind of boring, but her girlfriends don't care because he's such a hunk.
The story, such as it mostly isn't, gets started when Lindsey is sent to Europe to spy on doctor superevil Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and immediately finds herself tied to a chair in a Berlin warehouse and drugged into insensibility. Worse, Davian has put a capsule up her nose that will allow him to kill her in five minutes whenever he decides to get mean enough. Yes, the situation sounds impossible; hence, a mission. And since the damsel in distress is a woman Ethan loves like a sister, he has to, surprise, surprise, get back in the hunt (forgive me). The IM team consists of Luther Strickell (Ving Rhames), an African American who can appeal to African-American viewers, and Zhen (Maggie Q), a beautiful Asian woman who can appeal to guys who like a bit of leg in their mayhem. I won't give away the details of what all happens in Germany, but I will confide that it involves a lot of action.
The Berlin episode arrives too early in the flick to bring Davian to justice, so pretty soon Ethan and his Impossibilities conspire to capture Davian and plunge into a whole other movie. Or so it seems. Davian has been invited to a hoity-toity swank party in the Vatican where people like Zhen, pretending to be a beautiful Asian woman exactly like herself, wear outfits that show more bosom and gam than a Victoria's Secret ad. Don't ask why the Vatican is having such a hoity-toity swank party or why Davian is invited, 'cause this flick ain't about to tell you. Meanwhile, I thought the Holy See wasn't going over to the dark side until later in the summer when The Da Vinci Code opens.
Ethan and the Impossibles manage to capture Davian through the artful use of latex masks, sloppy cocktail drinking and strategic manhole covers. But what you can capture in movies like this, whether the captee is good guy or bad, you can't necessarily hold. And Davian is no more a prisoner than is he free. And if you think he can be mean to Ethan's little sister, just wait to see what he has in mind for Julia, who seems to fall into his clutches almost before his clutch has escaped handcuffs. But that's what an action movie does: it hurries.
Somewhere in there -- I don't recall exactly where, though I am sure it hardly matters -- the script introduces two other characters, both of whom work as desk jockeys at IM headquarters. John Musgrave (Billy Crudup) is Ethan's long-time collaborator, and he's been taking some recent heat, for reasons the picture isn't interested in developing for even a single second, from his new boss John Brassel (Laurence Fishburne). These characters don't have anything to do with the story, which barely exists anyway, so you should not bother worrying anything at all about them. Also somewhere in there, around the time of the Da Vinci Code sequence, I think, the script raises the critical issue of "the rabbit's foot." Davian wants "the rabbit's foot," so Ethan and the Impossibles have to keep him from getting it. Lots of people will die for the possession of "the rabbit's foot," but don't hope to learn what it is. That might require a scene with something other than action.