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Ten Word or Less Review: You can accept this mission.  It’s safe.

Reaching just its fourth installment in 15 years, Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol shows that patience may be the better way to keep a franchise going.  This uneven series of films got off to a rocky start with not one, but two clunkers.  Brian DePalma’s first film is lethargic and boring.  John Woo’s M:I 2 was as dumb as it was successful, which is to say very.  Six years went by between parts 2 and 3 and in that time star Cruise took a public shalacking for being all kinds of nuts.  Jumped the couch!  It was a shame because JJ Abrams M:I III pumped life, energy and excitement into the series which it had always failed to find.  That invigorating spectacle looked to be the end of things, but with his last nugget of clout on the line, Mr. Cruise has gotten one more M:I movie to the screen.  Helmed by Pixar star Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles), Ghost Protocol feels in line with the style and rhythms and Abrams third film, still a producer here, is fun, occasionally exhilarating, in enough places but doesn’t quite reach the razor sharp pace set by the last effort.

Ghost Protocol opens by reshuffling the deck from where we last left it.  We find Ethan Hunt (Cruise) locked away in a Russian jail for reasons which aren’t known.  His wife from the last film has vanished and is mentioned only cryptically.  Ving Rhames, Laurence Fishburne and everyone else not named Simon Pegg are also ejected.  Hunt’s cohorts (Pegg and Paula Patton) break him out as he’s needed for a new operation.  A Russian nutcase (Michael Nyquist) has eyes to steal codes for launching nuclear missiles.  His goal?  Make the world destroy itself.  That about sums it up.  If Ghost Protocol has one overbearing failing it is this.  This paper thin conceit for big budget action shenanigans is barely enough to hang a shirt on, much less a super sized action movie.  But despite the anemic idea driving it, Ghost Protocol squeezes out enough catchy antics to keep us just this side of happy.

Though irrevocably damaged by too many goofy inquiries into his whack life, the simple fact is that Tom Cruise can hold a camera’s attention and when coupled to a good action vehicle, he’s hard to make arguments against.  He’s played this character for 15 years and knows exactly what he’s doing at every second.  Where Ghost Protocol changes things up just a touch is that this is an actual team effort.  Previous Mission films typically turned into Cruise solo efforts as his supporting cast gradually flittered away with each progressive act.  As the first act ends Jeremy Renner shows up to become an unexpected and mysterious asset.  Renner works fine in supporting roles like his here and could be seen as future proofing the series on some level.  Simon Pegg works his irresistible charms as comic relief.  He actually gets to stay on for the duration of the story, and not just by phone.  Paula Patton also does some solid, sexy work as action sidekick babe.  If only the movie had a villain worth a damn.  Swedish actor Michael Nymqvist gets nothing interesting to do and nothing interesting to say.  He’s basically a MacGuffin on two legs.

Director Brad Bird is the wild card here.  Though it’s his first live action feature, as an animator he has not one but three beloved animation classics under his belt.  The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille are some of animations finest features, ever.  It isn’t easy for animation people to make their way into live action but Bird has been given an interesting test, to keep a fledgling franchise going as it comes into its fourth go around.  We all know that the fourth time is often not the charm for movie series.  Though handed a weak idea Bird works it for all he’s worth.    Shooting several sequences with IMAX cameras, Bird gives his action scenes pop but doesn’t over edit.  The extended second act sequence in Dubai, which involves Cruise hanging off the worlds’ largest building, playing a neat game of switcheroo in said tallest building and having a chase sequence in a sandstorm kicks things into a nice high gear.  The script doesn’t have the constant slam bang pacing that the last one did, we miss Philip Seymour Hoffman greatly, but as Ghost Protocol hits its stride just in time and starts to pay off just as you think it might turn into a wash out.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol gives fans of this series a nice dose of what they’ve enjoyed in the past.  It’s far more engaging than either parts one or two but is a step or two behind three.  Tom Cruise may be completely bonkers but that shouldn’t deter viewers who enjoy a spirited, big budget action romp from seeing this.  The IMAX sequences are stellar, Cruise is in good form and maybe we can even hold out hope that should a fifth part come about, we won’t have to live in fear of it.

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