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Mission Impossible III, Tarzan Collection Vol. 2

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (2006). With a budget of $150 million and a stateside gross of $133 million, this third chapter in the M:I franchise failed to make back its cost domestically (once again, the international box office came to the rescue), which was interpreted as proof that a star's imbecilic off-screen antics could end up affecting his motion picture's success. It's a shame that Tom Cruise possibly sabotaged his own product, since this fast-paced sequel is a huge improvement over its immediate predecessor and just barely manages to top the first film for sheer excitement. Instead of going for an established director like Brian De Palma (Mission I) and John Woo (Mission II), Paramount Pictures and producer-star Cruise elected to take a chance on TV's J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost), who pumps new life into the M:I template. "This Time, It's Personal" might as well have been the movie's tagline, as IMF (Impossible Missions Force) agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) finds himself trying to save his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and protégée (Keri Russell) from a murderous weapons dealer (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Mission: Impossible was established as a vanity franchise for Cruise, and he again plays to his strengths. Yet Hoffman's work (his character would have made a formidable Bond villain) marks this as the first time that the attention gets shifted away from the marquee attraction; before now, it's a development that I would have considered, well, impossible. Extras in the two-disc Collector's Edition include audio commentary by Abrams and Cruise, five deleted scenes, a making-of piece, footage from the international publicity tour, and two fawning tributes to Cruise.

Movie: ***

Extras: ***

THE TARZAN COLLECTION: VOLUME 2 (1943-1948). The first six pictures in the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan franchise, all included in Volume 1 (released in summer 2004), were produced by MGM and costarred Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane and (in later entries) Johnny Sheffield as Boy. After the series was dropped by MGM, it was snatched up by RKO, which then contributed another half-dozen pictures to the fold. O'Sullivan (who had grown tired of her role) was noticeably missing, but Weissmuller and Sheffield were still willing to carry on, and the series managed to squeeze out a few more entertaining episodes before finally closing shop 16 years after it had started with 1932's Tarzan the Ape Man.

Tarzan Triumphs (1943) isn't just the best of the RKO Tarzans; it's one of the best of the entire 12-flick series. With everyone else in Hollywood -- from Bogie to Bugs Bunny to The Three Stooges -- battling celluloid Nazis during the height of the war, it was only fitting that the King of the Apes also enter the fray. Initially indifferent, the jungle-dwelling isolationist joins the Allied cause after the Germans wreak havoc in the jungle. This is jingoist propaganda at its best, with Tarzan ordering (among other curt declarations of war) rescued villagers to "go kill Nazis!" The final gag involving consummate scene stealer Cheetah the chimp and Adolph Hitler is priceless, and as funny to watch the 101st time as it is the first.

Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943) again finds Tarzan pitted against the Nazis in another rousing adventure yarn, this one expansive enough to also include a mysterious jungle oasis populated by prehistoric beasts. The big-city patter by Nancy Kelly (as an American magician-cum-spy) is laid on rather thick, but everything else about this entry smacks of prime-grade matinee fodder, including a final-act appearance by a giant spider.

Tarzan and the Amazons (1945) is the first real sign that the series was forsaking any semblance of originality and relying heavily on a formulaic template that could be used repeatedly. Greed leads a group of archeologists to plunder a hidden city for its treasures, and it's up to the jungle swinger to set things right. This entry introduced Brenda Joyce as the new Jane; she's adequate, though no match for Maureen O'Sullivan.

Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946) offers some modest twists, as it involves a cult whose members disguise themselves as leopards and slaughter those they feel threaten their land. In a related subplot, a boy named Kimba (Tommy Cook) worms his way into the Tarzan household -- make that treehousehold -- with the intention of cutting out Jane's heart; it's up to a suspicious Boy (still played by a now-strapping Sheffield, at 15 looking more like Man than Boy) to come to her rescue.

Tarzan and the Huntress (1947) is strictly by-the-numbers, with Tarzan protecting his animal friends from city slickers who arrive with the intention of hauling off countless critters to populate zoos. The huntress of the title (Patricia Morison) is actually the least loathsome member of the assemblage, torn by her conscience while the male hunters display no morals whatsoever.

Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948) brings the series to an alarming end; without question, it's the worst film in either Tarzan boxed set. How misguided is this entry? For starters, Cheetah barely appears -- he's been replaced as comic relief by the insufferable John Laurenz as Benji, a singing postman who warbles such joy-killers as "I'm Taking a Letter to My Friend, Tarzan" and "I'll Serenade You With My Guitar." The film was shot in Mexico, which of course looks nothing like Africa; hence, the villagers mostly appear to be Hispanic, the sets have a distinctly Aztec flair, and the climax involves cliff dives into the ocean rather than animal stampedes or vine-swinging. And don't expect to see any mythical mermaids; the title merely refers to an island girl (Linda Christian) with exceptional swimming skills, thereby leading to numerous padded scenes involving backstrokes and breast strokes.

There are no extras in this set, though the back cover does inform us that "Cheetah became the world's oldest chimp, celebrating birthday 74 in 2006." That's right, the monkey's still with us. How about an honorary Oscar at next year's ceremony?

Tarzan Triumphs: ***

Tarzan's Desert Mystery: ***

Tarzan and the Amazons: **

Tarzan and the Leopard Woman: **1/2

Tarzan and the Huntress: **

Tarzan and the Mermaids: *

Extras: *

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