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'M: I3': Imagine Tom Cruise in ‘Alias’

'M: I3' | Sydney Pollack | Clive Davis | Warner Music

'M: I3': Imagine Tom Cruise in 'Alias'

The first thing you need to know about "Mission: Impossible 3" is that it’s not a Tom Cruise movie. It’s a J.J. Abrams movie.

Abrams directed it, and the creator of “Lost” and “Alias” has his fingerprints everywhere — right down to the last credit, which offers a "thank you" to the Hanso Foundation, the fictitious and mysterious organization that created the island where the "Lost" survivors are stranded.

That said, "M: I3" is a big, old-fashioned hit, the kind we need and haven’t seen for some time.

Imagine Tom Cruise as the star of “Alias,” and there you have it. The story is stronger than usual, the plot actually makes a modicum of sense and there’s non-stop action, thrills, explosions and even a few literary references thrown in for fun.

Cruise plays the central character, Ethan Hunt, but this time — unlike with the first two "M: I" movies — the film more closely adheres to the winning qualities of the TV show upon which it is based.

In this edition, the "MI" team really gets to shine, and so we get some actual characters and performances from Ving Rhames, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maggie Q, Billy Crudup, Keri Russell and Laurence Fishburne.

But mostly we get Philip Seymour Hoffman as the villain Owen Davian (named, as I told you before, for Hoffman’s beloved real-life manager Davien Littlefield).

Is PSH really “owin’ Davien”? Maybe. But we owe him a lot because he capably steals "M: I3" from everyone around him.

I’m sure Tom Cruise doesn’t mind. He’s got hundreds of millions in the bank, “Kate” and the baby and an anti-psychiatry campaign.

But Hoffman has the Oscar, and now he’s pulled off the neat trick of having a blockbuster film hinge on his performance. It’s been a good year.

The plots and stories for "M: I3" are certainly not new. They so seem woven together out of the leftovers from “True Lies” and a few others.

There’s one great scene in Shanghai that reminded me of “Red Corner,” but that was a while ago, so why not?

It’s some kind of testament to the filmmakers that the entire plot hinges on something that, at the end, is never explained or seen, and it doesn’t even matter. You just know you’ve been on this big fun rollercoaster and now it’s time to get off and go home.

But things to look for: a roof-jumping scene in Shanghai that really is breathtaking, and a long fall from another roof that will keep you guessing even if you think you’ve seen it before. That’s sort of the magic of the film.

At one point, Cruise even mimics himself in “Born on the Fourth of July,” dressing in disguise as someone who looks a lot like Ron Kovic. It’s a nice inside joke (I hope it was on purpose). There’s no couch jumping, however.

What’s really amazing when you think about it is that Abrams is now an action director. He started out as a wunderkind with a kind of soap-operaish script called "Regarding Henry," directed by Mike Nichols and starring Harrison Ford and Annette Bening.

In “M: I3,” he shows that he can construct a big, blow-‘em-up summer adventure, and do it with a sense of humor. He also knows how to use Lalo Schiffrin’s original score, including the old incidental music that was used on the show.

And what of Kanye West? The rap sample expert does something very funny in his closing credits number. Instead of weaving in the show’s theme, he turns to Perry Como’s old hit, “It’s Impossible.”

I mean, it’s one of the weirdest meta-juxtapositions in history, sort of a meaningful non sequitur. I’m starting to wonder if West has read Jacques Derrida, or what’s going on in that head.

Regis Gets the Story: Cruise Cooks

It was a busy night last night for documentaries and the Tribeca Film Festival.

As “M: I3” was unreeling for the press, HBO was busy screening “Ithetung: Never Stop Learning” at its screening room for selected dignitaries.

This extraordinary film, made by Willie and Charlie Ebersol and Kip Kroeger, will be shown in December.

Next door to the Ziegfeld, where “M: I3” was shown, Sony Pictures Classics had a dinner at Osteria del Circo for “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” a Tribeca doc made by esteemed director-producer-writer and sometime actor Sydney Pollack.

You know Sydney’s directed films — “Tootsie,” “Out of Africa,” “The Firm,” “Absence of Malice” — the list goes on and on.

He’s also a producer (“Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Cold Mountain,” “The Quiet American”). He’s made one of the best movies ever — “Out of Africa” — and one of the worst — “Bobby Deerfield.” At this point, he deserves an honorary Oscar.

In "Sketches," Pollack investigates the life and work of the great contemporary architect, Frank Gehry. Brad Pitt, thankfully, is not in the film. But Dennis Hopper, Bob Geldof, artists Julian Schnabel and Ed Ruscha and former Disney chief Michael Eisner are all in there, adding their stories and observations.

So, too, is Philip Johnson, the esteemed elder statesman of architecture whom Pollack was lucky to get on film before he died last year at age 99.

And so to dinner: I was lucky enough to be seated at a table for four with Pollack and Regis Philbin and his beautiful wife, Joy.

Over dinner we got to hear quite a bit about Pollack’s history in Hollywood, thanks to Regis’ charming elicitations (Regis is just the same in real life as he is on TV, which is why everyone loves him.)

For example, I didn’t know that Pollack was encouraged to become a director by Burt Lancaster, who was so impressed with the young (then) actor’s skills that he called legendary MCA honcho Lew Wasserman and got him work in Hollywood.

I also didn’t know that years later, Pollack stepped in and re-shot most of Lancaster’s great 1968 movie, “The Swimmer,” after director Frank Perry’s take on it didn’t work.

Meanwhile, Regis recounted for us his story of going to a Lakers game and dinner with Jack Nicholson — which he told on his show this week.

It was hilarious. I love the idea of Jack Nicholson as a Regis fan — this shows exceptionally good taste, and makes Jack even hipper than before.

Watch Regis today if you can —- he has Tom Cruise on —- and both of us probably picked up a lot of useful information about him from Pollack. He directed Cruise in “The Firm” and acted with him in “Eyes Wide Shut.”

“I was in three scenes of ‘Eyes Wide Shut,’” Pollack told us. “I still have no idea what the movie was about. Stanley Kubrick told me it would take two weeks. I was there for two and a half months. I cooked for everyone because the food was so bad. Tom studied all my dishes and now he has a book in his kitchen called “Syd’s Recipes. He can cook them.”

Meanwhile, as dinner progressed and Pollack told his stories, a parade of people walked through Circo and into the private back dining room.

Those people were a good chunk of the cast of the CBS soap “Guiding Light,” having just come from a performance across the street at City Center.

It was very surreal, like a scene from “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” to see them in real life while Pollack reminisced about Robert Redford and Joy Philbin and I were trying the crème brulee.

As Cindy Adams would say: Only in New York, kids, only in New York.

Clive Brings the Donuts

And last, this comes from my colleague at FOXNews.com, Michael Dedora, who stood outside Tower Records the night before last waiting for Pearl Jam tickets and their new album.

Pearl Jam has just released a new, apparently terrific album on J Records. They will make a “surprise” appearance Friday night at Irving Plaza.

Dedora writes: “Sunday night, rabid fans started lining up and slept over. By the time Monday evening came around, fans were tired and weary and couldn't wait 'til midnight to hit.

Running on fumes ... lo and behold, at around 11 p.m., who rolls up to Tower Records? Clive Davis, with boxes and boxes of Krispy Kremes in hands for the weary fans. All I can say is, I'm glad it seems like the label and execs actually care about my favorite band."

Thanks, Michael. Davis is over 70 years old and has better things to do late at night than feed fans. But Dedora’s story says it all. This is why Davis is the greatest of all record execs, and why his acts are successful. He actually cares about this stuff.

The next generation should take note of this if they want the music industry to last beyond people like Davis, Ahmet Ertegun and Bruce Lundvall.

A Warner-EMI Merger at Last?

Everyone — from hitsdailydouble to all of my sources — insists that the Warner Music-EMI merger is about to be announced. It could come as early as Friday.

It’s interesting that it’s happening now, as Warner puts three releases on the charts after little activity in the recent past.

One scenario of curiosity: Jason Flom, ousted at Warner Atlantic before heading to EMI’s Virgin, could wind up back in charge of his old stomping grounds.

But all in all, the consolidation might spell the end for some of the WMG people, many of whom were just waiting around to collect their payouts. EMI will likely take over, clean out the dross and streamline WMG’s operations.

Some speculate that WMG was so ready to release Neil Young’s controversial “Living with War” album because they knew the end was coming. But “Let’s Impeach the President” was not about Lyor Cohen, in case you wondered.

If record execs want to find the next "big" acts, I recommend a trip down to the Bitter End tonight, where first Jessica Domain and then Seth Adam take the stage around 9 p.m. They won't be disappointed...