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Cruise, ‘M:I-3’ not a pretty sight 

‘American Haunting’ doesn’t.

MISSION MASH: Cruise leaves brakes on.
  • MISSION MASH: Cruise leaves brakes on.

When it comes to film, the third time is rarely the charm. As has been proven time and again, movie franchises tend to age more like buttermilk than wine, and by the time you get to a third installment of anything, the results are rarely pretty.

The latest proof of this maxim is “Mission: Impossible III.” While “M:I-3” tries to wake up its “save the world” plot with a dose of romance and the skills of “Alias” and “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams behind the camera, it’s still the most lopsided installment in the series. The result is a mulch of every cloak-and-dagger movie you’ve ever seen — including the first two “Mission: Impossible” films — with a smidge of “The Way We Were” thrown in for good measure.

When the lights go down this time, we find super spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) duct-taped to a barber chair and in the oily clutches of evil billionaire Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Flashing back, we learn that some days earlier Hunt had forsaken the monk-like unwritten creed of the Impossible Mission Force and married Julia (Michelle Monaghan), who thinks he works for the Virginia state DMV. After a disastrous mission that leaves an IMF agent dead, Hunt leaves his new bride and embarks on a mission to kidnap the fugitive Davian from the Vatican. With the help of a mole inside IMF, Davian soon escapes, Julia is kidnapped, and Davian demands the return of the package he was to retrieve in Rome — a mysterious package codenamed “The Rabbit’s Foot.” From there, with Hunt now a fugitive, it’s off on a round-the-world race to get the Rabbit’s Foot in time to ransom it back to Davian in exchange for Julia’s life.

While the plot of “M:I-3” was enough to keep me interested, I tired quickly of Tom Cruise. To be honest, this reviewer has never been impressed with Cruise. Sure, he’s a monster-grade heartthrob, a charisma machine who can get his grocery list greenlit for a hundred-million-dollar production. But not since Charleton Heston has a mediocre actor been elevated so high up the A-list.

Cruise’s turn in “M:I-3” only serves to reinforce my boredom with His Royal Toothiness. Though the plot of “M:I-3” chugs along fairly well, it’s in spite of Cruise, who delivers his lines with all the soul of a talking alarm clock. Better are Ving Rhames as Hunt’s tech expert Luther, and Hoffman who — even though he is pretty much mailing-in this performance — looks like Sir Lawrence Olivier compared to the CruiseTron 3000.

While “M:I-3” is a fairly cool movie that will help you kill that $9 bladder-buster soda in short order, the franchise is showing its age. See it for jet-setting thrills, but don’t expect much more.



Spooked film

One of the most fascinating cases in paranormal research is the story of the Bell Witch. In the early 1800s, an unseen force began tormenting the family of Tennessee pioneer John Bell, scratching and biting family members, keeping them up all night cursing and singing. The phenomenon drew the curious from miles around — including soon-to-be-president Andrew Jackson. John Bell was eventually killed by the spirit, the story goes — poisoned by a dark liquid substituted in one of his medicine bottles.

The latest attempt at explaining the goings on at Bell Farm is the new film “An American Haunting.” As a solution to the Bell riddle, we’ll probably never know how successful it is. As a film, however, it can’t decide whether it wants to be of the quiet-and-eerie school or the jump-and-and-gitcha variety.

In the heavily fictionalized account of the Bell legend, a new homeowner in the small town of Red River, Tenn., finds a mysterious journal in her attic. As she begins to read, we are swept back to 1818. The journal, we find, is that of Betsy Bell (Rachel Hurd Wood), the teen-age daughter of John (Donald Sutherland) and Lucy Bell (Sissy Spacek). A successful farmer in the hamlet of Red River, Bell runs afoul of his neighbor and church law when he finances a piece of property at 20 percent interest, breaking a rule against usury. What’s more, the neighbor in question is known around the community as a witch, and swears that she’ll exact a revenge beyond the fine the town fathers levy.

Soon, Bell’s farmhouse is assaulted by strange occurrences — unexplained noises, nightmares for all, and a great black wolf that can disappear like smoke. Then, the spirit fixates on Betsy, yanking her hair and smothering her in the night. The local preacher and his Bible do no good, nor does Betsy’s schoolteacher beau (James D’Arcy). With no remedy in sight, John Bell grows deathly ill.

While that’s all well and good — maybe even fodder for a quiet, old-timey ghost story — from there, “Haunting” takes a left turn and somehow ends up in “After School Special” territory. Though I’m not going to ruin it for you, suffice it to say that you won’t have to buy cheese for your nachos, as plenty is provided onscreen. The result is a fairly good film that takes a header right into the drink in the final five minutes. As always, that’s the worst kind.

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