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Cruise delivers the goods in Mission Impossible

I'm just going to take a guess here and say that in the real world the IT folks at the world's tallest building probably wouldn't put the main server room on the 130th floor. For starters, it would take up prime real estate that could otherwise be allocated to luxury condos, not to mention that it's a long elevator ride for the tech guys when e-mail goes out ... you know what, I'm just going to stop trying to be logical about this. In Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, the server room has to be on the 130th floor. And you know there's only one way to access it without being detected, right?

I'm sure there will be other films that one day take advantage of the cinematic opportunities offered by the brand new 163-story Burj Khalifa, but the fourth installment of Mission: Impossible uses the Dubai skyscraper as a set piece to such a high degree of awesomeness that I weep for others who try to imitate it.

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  • A typical day at the office.

That the film maintains this level of excellence as it dashes around the globe from Budapest to Moscow to Dubai to India is something of a surprise given that the previous two installments of the series weren't particularly memorable. Also, let's not forget that Tom Cruise hasn't starred in an above-average film since Minority Report nearly a decade ago.

That streak ends here. Ghost Protocol is the best of the series, and the credit here goes as much to Cruise and his entertaining entourage of IMF operatives as it does to director Brad Bird (The Incredibles and Ratatouille), who for the first time in his career helms a film starring humans not Pixar characters. Ghost Protocol has some of the most memorable action sequences since the Bourne films, but it also has a level of self-awareness here far greater than the previous M:I installments that pushes it into territory occupied by the best Bond movies.

Ethan Hunt may be the ultimate no-nonsense IMF agent, but the filmmakers understand that Hunt works in a ridiculous world where cryptic messages self-destruct and hidden computer consoles are always available no matter what Russian back alley you're hiding in. So it's fantastic when early on, one of those messages doesn't explode and requires a tap from Cruise to give us the bang we're looking for.

It's a wink to the audience that never really stops, especially in the early scenes that make about zero sense if you think too hard. But damn if it isn't cool to watch Hunt and his IMF sidekick Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, reprising his entertaining role from M:I 3) impersonate Russian military officers as they infiltrate the Kremlin's archive room. The plan fails, Hunt and Dunn barely escape, there's a very large explosion and next thing you know the U.S. is being blamed for a terrorist attack on Russia.

This doesn't bode well for Hunt and his team, which includes agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and, eventually, a mysterious IMF analyst played by Jeremy Renner. The President disavows the entire agency, leaving the rogue foursome without assistance or backup as they try to pursue the real bad guys who've stolen nuclear launch codes from the Kremlin.

Lucky for us, the secret meet-up between the guys with the launch codes and the guys with access to the nukes takes place in Dubai at the aforementioned very tall building. And so begins the best 30 minutes or so of the film, where Hunt & Co. must pull off a series of double switches that includes confusing the bad guys into thinking they're on a different floor of the building than they actually are. It's often funny and always entertaining, and we haven't even gotten to Hunt's astounding adventure on the exterior of a 2,000-foot building. There's actually video evidence that Cruise shot this scene on location without a stunt double, which I hope at least earns him another level or two up the Scientology ladder.

While Ghost Protocol consistently delivers a healthy dose of adrenaline every 10 minutes or so, the film occasionally cools off when it returns to a mysterious back-story involving Hunt and Renner's character, William Brandt. It's extraneous and silly, made worse every time Brandt gives us a new iteration of the pained-expression face. Renner is supposedly the heir-apparent leading man in the series once Cruise steps away. I hope this isn't true.

And let's hope Cruise doesn't step away anytime soon, because he seems to have hit his stride with this one. I'm okay with three or four more, especially if they include Simon Pegg as the comic relief, and even more so if they keep Cruise from pursuing Top Gun 2, which is rumored to be in development.

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol continues at the Carmike 12 and the Village 6.

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