Tom Cruise returns as ace IMF agent Ethan Hunt (that's "Impossible Mission Force," not "International Monetary Fund"), now retired from active duty and ready to settle into married life with fiancée Julia (Michelle Monaghan). But "Jules" doesn't know about Ethan's past exploits, nor of his current work training new recruits, one of whom (Keri Russell, star of Abrams' earlier television hit "Felicity") has just gone missing while on the trail of brutal international smuggler and arms dealer named Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Though he knows better than to risk exposing his bride-to-be to the dangers of his profession, Hunt succumbs to his undying sense of duty and agrees to lead a team consisting of old pal Luther (Ving Rhames) and newcomers Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q) to execute the rescue.
As usual, things don't go as planned, and Hunt ends up in a globe-trotting grudge match with Davian, who promises to kill Julia unless Ethan secures for him a billion-dollar canister of something so horrible that it's known only as "the rabbit's foot." Despite a few modestly creative twists, it's a fairly routine plot that mostly just provides Abrams and Cruise a series of placeholders in which to drop a wide array of elaborate set pieces in exotic international locales. Ordinarily, the use of a classic Hitchcockian MacGuffin like the "rabbit's foot" would generate a modicum of interstitial intrigue, but here everything is strictly secondary to the cavalcade of stunts, explosions, shootouts, chases and high-tech heists.
Abrams, who was recruited by Cruise after original director Joe Carnahan ("Narc") exited, keeps things sprightly and brisk but lacks the flourish of his predecessors. It's as though he's making the "Alias" he'd always dreamed of making, if only he had the money. By generic action movie standards, it's competent but unremarkable, with the lone exception of Hoffman, who, in his first post-Oscar performance (though it was filmed before his "Capote" win), steals absolutely every moment he's onscreen. Nonetheless, one can't help but feel disappointed by the totality of the effort; for all its apocalyptic pyrotechnics and high-octane stunts, it fails to muster so much as a single moment to compare with the riveting simplicity of the first film's NOC-stealing scene. Starring Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell, Maggie Q, Simon Pegg, Eddie Marsan and Laurence Fishburne. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and J.J. Abrams. Produced by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner. A Paramount release. Action-Thriller. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of frenetic violence and menace, disturbing images and some sensuality. Running time: 125 min