TCS Daily

"Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It, Is to Convince People That You Are Normal"

By James Pinkerton - May 5, 2006 12:00 AM


MALE VOICE IN THE MACHINE: "Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to convince people that you are normal."

TOM CRUISE: "Negative. I'm not credible as normal. I tried it on 'Oprah,' and it didn't work. After I started yelling and jumping on the couch, people wrote me off forever as normal."

VOICE: "Roger that. But we can't give up on all that we have invested in you, on this billion-dollar 'Mission: Impossible' franchise. So we go with 'Plan B': In the next installment, 'M:I:3' you will play yourself, as you always do, with all your freaky intensity. But we will write the script as a point-by-point refutation of your critics. The critics might not be persuaded, but fans might buy it, and besides, it'll be fun to hit back!"

CRUISE: "Yes, sir. Thank you for giving me this opportunity, sir. I think I can accomplish this mission."

* * *

OK, so light that famous match, cue up the cool Lalo Schifrin music, and away we go with the third installment of this series. Is "Mission: Impossible 3" a good movie? It is if you like that sort of thing -- it's thoroughly technological, thoroughly implausible, thoroughly enjoyable.

But what makes the film so interesting to watch -- at least for tabloid-reading followers of Tom Cruise's love life -- is that it's a spy story within a spy story. There's a spy story for us to unravel as we watch Ethan Hunt, the mysterious movie character, try to save the world from deadly arms dealers, and there's a second inner story for us to unravel as we watch Tom Cruise, the mysterious movie actor, try to save his career from nasty gossip-mongers.

But first, let's admit it: If movies are an art form, then Cruise is an artist. Cruise didn't get to be such a big star, for more than two decades now, without having something going for him; he brings a strangely alluring, freaky intensity to his roles, from "Taps" to "The Firm" to "Minority Report." (The only time he fails are in movies such as "Cocktail," where his character was too normal, and "Eyes Wide Shut," where the story was way out-of-control weirder than he was.)

All artists tend to be strange -- that's what makes them interesting. Michelangelo was a weird dude; he never changed his clothes, such that when he took his boots off, he pulled his skin off, too. And speaking of "off," Vincent Van Gogh cut his ear off -- how artistic is that?

Cruise was the way he was before he was a Scientologist, but it seems reasonable to surmise that the L. Ron Hubbard religion, notorious for its discipline and, well, weirdness, has helped Cruise maintain his demonic edge, even into middle age. He's 43 now, but there's not an ounce of softness about him; he's like a Granny Apple, crisp and tart. Cruise tells interviewers that Scientology has given him happiness, but he sure doesn't seem happy -- more like fanatically joyless. But of course, that's part of his appeal; even if he makes $50 million a picture, he still has an outsider quality that teenagers of various genders can all relate to.

But of course, Tom Cruise, superstar, has feelings, too. No matter how much his handlers and minders shield him from his bad press (Is he crazy? Is he gay? Has he abducted Katie Holmes into a cult, or has he simply rented her, and her womb, for awhile?), he must know what the tabs are saying about him. And The Wall Street Journal reported recently that all the bad ink he's been getting (did he really eat his baby's placenta, as he told GQ he would?) has hurt his appeal with women.

So Cruise hatched a plan for image-rehab, and it starts with this movie. Since he co-produced it, and hand-picked the director, J.J. Abrams -- the hot creator of the TV shows "Alias" and "Lost" -- it's safe to say that everything the audience sees on the screen is what the control-freaking Cruise wants the audience to see. Ethan Hunt, top agent for the Impossible Missions Force, is eager to save the world, and Tom Cruise, human being with a bruised ego, is eager to redeem his reputation. For all the fun of following Ethan Hunt as he action-adventures his way from Washington DC to Berlin to Rome to Shanghai, the real fun is watching Tom Cruise as he scripts his way through the rocks of criticism, bad buzz, and whisper-campaigning.

After a grim scene of foreshadowing, which reminds us that Cruise is, once again, a fierce guy in a fierce environment, the film opens with Hunt/Cruise living a placid life in the Washington DC suburbs, enjoying his engagement party. His fiancée, Julie, played by Michelle Monaghan, is a Katie Holmes look-alike -- how 'bout that? Being younger and trusting, she believes that her husband-to-be works on "traffic patterns" as a Clark Kent-ish bureaucrat for the Department of Transportation.

One must wonder: How could she not know? After all, the buffed-up Hunt/Cruise has a body of steel -- surely she must've gone looking for his metaphorical Superman suit and found something? But no, the film would have us believe that Julie moved in with Ethan without knowing, really, the first thing about him. Gee, imagine that, Cruise keeps aspects of his life secret. But even though Hunt/Cruise has a dull job, he's still a catch; one of Julie's girlfriends is scripted to attest to his hetero desirability: "I'd marry him," says one. Got that? Hunt/Cruise is normal and straight.

But, of course, he's normal and straight with a difference. He is, after all a super-agent, and so even though he has retired from active duty, he is lured back into the field, by the death of a colleague and by the threat posed by international arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Hoffman, fresh from his Oscar for "Capote," makes a great villain. He's handsome enough, but his chubbiness makes you think back to that fat kid in high school, the one everyone picked on -- the one who swore revenge on the world.

As usual, there's a doomsday device in the film, referred to, in this case, as "The Rabbit's Foot." Nobody knows exactly what it can do, but we know it's bad-ass. So bad, in fact, that it's described as "the Anti-God" machine." Question: Is there any chance that the film's plot-driving device -- a man-made machine that possesses deity-destroying powers -- has its roots in the murky realm of Scientology theology?

For most of the film, Hunt the Secret Agent Man must keep up his façade; he does his work without telling Julie, who works a prosaic job as a hospital nurse, what he really does. Presumably, she can't handle the truth.

But of course, those who know Hunt are skeptical that he can pull off this double-life, as good super-agent and good husband. Ving Rhames, playing the high-tech sidekick, warns Hunt/Cruise: "You're going to keep messing up your love."

And even Julie has her concerns: "Tell me it's real," she begs him. So Hunt/Cruise makes it real, quick as a kickboxer; he and she have a quickie marriage, inside the hospital. No churches for this Scientologist: they are wed in a high-tech medical cathedral.

Soon, Hunt is off on his mission, without telling his wife a thing. And yet as the plot unfolds, innocent Julie becomes part of the mission too; she is kidnapped by the evil Hoffman. And so the film becomes not only Hunt's battle to save the world, but also his battle to save his new wife. As he says, "I'd die for her. I'd do anything for her." Got that, Katie -- I mean Julie? Hunt/Cruise loves you, and only you; his love extends from here to Alpha Centauri. The film, then, is a 125-minute wedding vow for the real groom, as well as the reel groom. Yet by the end of the movie, Julie is introduced to Hunt/Cruise's secret practices. Not only that, but she proves to be quite an adept, a de facto IMF agent. She's a quick convert to these new things; she cruises easily into her husband's new world.

So the mission of responding to the critics has been accomplished. But how will audiences respond to this latest Cruise? We'll know soon, but my guess is that the movie will be a hit: Cruise is an artist, and this is his art -- to convince us, to convey to all his normality/invincibility. And you can join him for a ten-dollar ticket.


MALE VOICE IN THE MACHINE: "You did well. You did us all proud."

CRUISE: "Thank you, Mr. Hubbard. I am ready now for my next mission."

James Pinkerton is TCS media critic and fellow at the New America Foundation.



He has accepted the mission AND FAILED MISERABLY.
After what he said about depressed people and individuals with other sicknesses I PROMISE my family and many of my friends will never give that ******* another dollar. Who does that HS graduate wannabe think he is? He has no formal training of any kind, no certification,no license, no college degree and he belittles all who do not belong to his "We came from alienpods millions of years ago" cult.
He reads 1 book and insults and talksdown to reporters and physicians alike. That guy could not pass a drivers license exam he is such an idiot and fool. Hey, I read a book on the spaceshuttle. Does that me qualified as a pilot for NASA? Sick people need help, NOT INSULTS, as those that come from that BIGNOSED FOOL.

One word:


1 Suggestion
Grow some nuts.

One more moron in a long line of buffoons

This is more yet proof that the vast majority of actors and actresses are the last people that should influence politics or anything else.
Things should be as simple as possible but no simpler

We give them our attention
especially when they belong to weird cults and say moronic things. Some indeed follow and believe in what they say. I'm interested because it's like watching a slow motion train wreck. It's a form of schadenfreude I suppose; I find it amusing that people can be that popular and that disfunctional all at the same time.

Cruel, but I don't pretend to be a saint.

Yes, it's interesting
that while the celebs protest vigorously against the tabs they also solicit their coverage as much as they can. The tabs are the principal method by which they attract and maintain their fan base.

I think you're right, Joanie. The fans are the expendable commodity maintaining egos (and more importantly incomes).

What's astonishing to me is how many take them seriously on issues for which they are not qualified. The most trenchant remark I can think of last year came from Mick Jagger (who is not an uneducated idiot, he's got a Masters in Business from the University of London). He was asked about a potential role for the Rolling Stones in Live 8, and he replied something like, "What do I or any of the rest of us know about any of this stuff? I'm a rock musician and I haven't been elected to anything."

Thank you Joanie
There are too many interesting things in the world to discuss and too little time to waste it uselessly.

Similarly over the past year or so, you also show no interest in engaging in mere shouting matches, and you are one of the few here with whom it is a pleasure to discuss things. There are others on this site, but they're getting scarce.

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