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Cruise Takes On Hoffman in 'Mission: Impossible III'

How's this for an impossible mission: Tom Cruise against Truman Capote?

Theater owners got a sneak peek Tuesday of two key scenes in Cruise's summer sequel "Mission: Impossible III," in which his undercover operative Ethan Hunt takes on a villain played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won an Academy Award this month for playing author Capote in "Capote."

Director J.J. Abrams, creator of TV's "Lost" and "Alias" who makes his big-screen debut with "Mission: Impossible III," told a crowd at the theater-owner convention ShoWest that he set out to make an action film that put characters first, spectacle second.

"The reason the action works so strongly is that J.J. tells a story, and what drives the story are the characters, the people," Paula Wagner, Cruise's producing partner, said in an interview with The Associated Press alongside Abrams.

"The action happens because the people are trying to get something accomplished, get something done, and that's great storytelling."

Distributor Paramount showed off an exchange in which Hoffman's character, imprisoned by the Impossible Missions Force, delivers a chilling threat to Cruise's Hunt.

"Do you have a wife, a girlfriend?" Hoffman asks Cruise. "Because if you do, you know what I'm going to do next? I'm going to find her. I'm going to find her, and I'm going to hurt her. I'm going to make her bleed and call out your name. ...

"And then I'm going to kill you right in front of her."

Abrams also presented a fiery sequence in which Hoffman's allies try to rescue him from Cruise and his gang, which includes returning co-star Ving Rhames.

"Mission: Impossible III" also co-stars Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Monaghan and Keri Russell, who starred in Abrams' series "Felicity."

After delays on the sequel that included scheduling conflicts and an earlier director dropping out, Cruise decided Abrams was the right filmmaker after watching episodes of "Alias." Cruise and Wagner let Abrams toss out the earlier story line and held off on "Mission: Impossible III" until he was able to free himself up from getting "Lost" on the air.

Though they both were hits, the first two "Mission: Impossible" movies were criticized for focusing on style and action in service of perplexing story lines. "Mission: Impossible III" presents a clear plot centered on elaborate chess moves between Cruise and Hoffman's characters, said Abrams, a co-writer on the movie.

"This story is trackable, unlike a lot of stories we've seen in the spy genre, certainly everything from episodes of `Mission: Impossible' on TV, and certainly I'm guilty of it in episodes of `Alias,'" Abrams said. "There are stories that can get so convoluted that you're just barely hanging on, but this I think you can follow the story beat for beat."