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Animated director makes 'Mission' possible

“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is one of Tom Cruise’s finest action flicks, just what’s needed to potentially restore some of this fallen star’s box-office bankability.

But the story here is Brad Bird, a director who’s only making his fourth movie and, remarkably, just his first live-action feature. This is the best of the “M:I” movies, with Bird showing that the enormous talent behind “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille” and “The Iron Giant” transfers mighty nicely from animation to the real world.

Granted, this is the real world, “M:I”-style, where Cruise’s missions and stunts truly are impossible by the laws of physics and normal, plausible storytelling constraints. But Bird applies the anything-can-happen limitlessness of cartoons and goes for it, creating thrilling, dizzying action sequences.

If you have the slightest fear of heights, an unnerving feeling of vertigo is bound to result as you stare down from the 130th floor during Cruise’s attempt to scale the world’s tallest building.

For all the complexity of the action and gimmicks, “Ghost Protocol” wisely tell a simple, good-guys-against-bad-guys story. It keeps Cruise surrounded by a tight, capable supporting cast in Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton and Simon Pegg, who co-starred in “Mission: Impossible III.”

The movie starts with a clever jailbreak by Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, stuck in a Moscow prison for reasons unexplained until late in the story.

Once free, Ethan is dispatched to infiltrate the Kremlin along with Impossible Missions Force agents Jane Carter (Patton) and Benji Dunn (Pegg). But it’s all a setup by madman Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), who sets off a devastating explosion at the Kremlin to cover his theft of a Russian nuclear launch device and manages to finger Ethan’s team for the blast.

So the threat that’s always hung over the IMF team comes to pass: the secretary (Tom Wilkinson) disavows knowledge of their actions, leaving Hunt and his comrades on their own as they try to clear their names and stop Hendricks from instigating nuclear war.

Joining them is Wilkinson’s aide, William Brandt (Renner), a guy who takes to field work a little too easily to be the desk-jockey analyst he claims he is.

Cruise looks shaggy, and it doesn’t help an aging screen idol to look so unkempt. And “Ghost Protocol” ends with a talky epilogue that feels tacked-on and trite (though it offers a couple of cameos from “Mission” past).

But whatever the movie’s shortcomings, director Bird more than compensates with a bullet train of action and an arsenal of cool gadgets. Maybe making cartoons has expanded his conception of what’s possible in a live film.

Bird does it so well, you don’t really care how impossible it all is.

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