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Mission Successful 

Tom Cruise, while clearly insane, has making blockbusters down to a, um, science

Tom Cruise is a little nutty. Actually, it's beyond that. His brain has gone to outer space, and it's been sending us crazy postcards. He's borderline demented at this point.

That doesn't mean his movies don't kick ass. Last year's War of the Worlds was one of 2005's best, and now he's bringing that insane glare to Mission: Impossible III, yet another strong chapter in the durable franchise.

The plots of these movies are as indecipherable as their central star's psyche. This one involves something called a "Rabbit's Foot," a mysterious object coveted by a psycho named Owen Davian (an incredibly nasty Philip Seymour Hoffman), who looks to sell it to nefarious buyers. IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise!) comes out of retirement and forgoes his honeymoon with a new wife (Michelle Monaghan ... I'm in love). Of course, things are not as they seem. Major double-crosses are in store, and somebody's going to wear one of those amazing latex masks.

Once again, Cruise does a lot of his own stunts, Jackie Chan-style. (The film needs one of those blooper reels during the credits showing Cruise getting hit in the head with beams and kicked in the nuts by fellow actors. That would rock!) The guy has hit 43, but he runs around like a sprightly man in his 20s.

Hoffman, coming off his Oscar win for Capote, is easily the best Mission: Impossible villain yet. The level of madness his performance reaches is downright frightening (especially in one particular scene on an airplane), and it's quite the contrast to the mild-mannered In Cold Blood author we just saw him playing. He is, without a doubt, one of the finest actors making the rounds today, and this represents a truly fun departure for him.

Mr. Indie Film, Billy Crudup, shows up in a big-budget picture for a change as one of Hunt's superiors, and his presence is most certainly welcome. Ditto Laurence Fishburne as another higher-up who, wouldn't you know it, acts in a very suspicious manner. Monaghan, so freaking damn good in last year's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, establishes herself as a major star in the making. She and Cruise have some credible chemistry on screen.

Some critics have whined about the usage of those amazing latex masks for yet a third time in this film, calling them a gimmick that Mission directors need to jettison. Let me ask: Did Star Wars make a mistake in keeping the light saber past the first film? The mask thing is a cool gimmick that works with repeated usage, and it's special to the franchise. The new film puts enough spins on that gimmick to keep it interesting, if not totally fresh.

Sure, you can see some of the big shocking plot twists coming, but the performers handle them with panache, making them fun even when they are predictable. One of the franchise's trademarks is that there will be traitors, and this installment doesn't disappoint.

This is a great franchise, although a sub-par opening weekend at the box office shows that interest in Cruise's shtick is waning. Cruise gives me the creeps when he's talking to Oprah, but he's continuing to hit home runs at the multiplex. Go play with your new kid, ya crazy kook ... you earned it.

On a separate note, I'd like to see a film co-starring Scientology giants Cruise and John Travolta. It could be called An Aged Danny Zuko Gets a Cocktail, with the two returning to roles that made them shine. Travolta could bust out "Greased Lightning" as an effervescent, smiling Cruise juggles those vodka bottles. Then, they would embrace, deem each other "clear," achieve the level of Operating Thetan, and ascend to the heavens to be with L. Ron Hubbard. It would be box-office gold!

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