I was riveted right from the start, when Tom Cruise's cohorts helped him bust out of a Moscow prison in a thrilling and imaginative set piece set to Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.”

With his star power fading and his box office dwindling, Tom Cruise’s career choices came down to flipping burgers or flipping the Bird. Lucky for him, he chose the latter; defiantly lifting a finger to dial up Brad Bird to make what seemed to many an obscene gesture.


Not Bird. He was thrilled when Suri’s dad asked him to – as Jerry Seinfeld would say – switch teams. He didn’t think twice about leaving his Pixar family to put his stock in an actor considered by most to be … well … daffy. No, no, no, not “daffy" like J. Edgar Hoover’s mother defined it; I mean more like nuts. You know, out of his cotton-pickin’ mind.


Jumping on couches and picking fights with Matt Lauer will almost always garner such a reputation. And, as it turns out, Tom really is crazy – crazy like a fox. His decision to lure Bird, a guy accustomed to cuddly cartoon characters, into the glitz and corrupting glamour of Hollywood action flicks may be his most deft move since getting his freak on at the end of “Tropic Thunder.” It’s no sham marriage, either. The union between Tom and Bird, or as I like to call them, Bruise, turns out to be the real deal, as evidenced by the powerful pedigree of their first child together, “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.” It’s a long name, I know. It’s an even longer movie. But, in this case, length doesn’t matter; for this is one of those babies that can’t help but put a big ol’ grin on your face.


OK, the kid’s not that bright. In fact, he’s unapologetically stupid. But boy, the places he’ll take you. From Dubai to Mumbai, the kid really gets around, dragging Tom’s Ethan Hunt and his IMF cohorts Benji (a funny Simon Pegg), Jane (a sexy Paula Patton) and William (a forceful Jeremy Renner) on a heart-stopping adventure in which their mission, which they chose to accept, repeatedly calls upon them to save the world from nuclear destruction. And the guy planning on doing that deconstructing is a sullen Swede (Michael Nyqvist of “Millennium Trilogy” fame) determined to trick Russians and Americans into whipping out their missiles and having at it. Is this film gay or what? Well, it sure made me happy. I was riveted right from the start, when Tom’s cohorts helped him bust out of a Moscow prison in a thrilling and imaginative set piece set to Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.” And it is indeed a swift boot to the noggin for folks bored by Tom’s stale antics. Faster than you forgot “Knight and Day,” we’re thrust from our action comas into a brave new world in which Bird morphs the principles he used on his Oscar-winning “The Incredibles” into live-action form.


Like a real-life avian, Bird defies gravity at every turn, whether it’s Tom leaping off the side of the world’s tallest building or Renner suspended by magnets above a meat-grinding turbine. Bird even summons a blindingly strong sandstorm in the middle of a death-defying car chase. The man simply knows no limits, and that’s a very good thing both for us and Cruise, who was pretty much given up for dead in the minds of most people. But with “M:I-GP,” Tom fully reminds us of why he became such a huge star. He’s funny, charismatic and utterly believable as a badass. Not bad for a guy who reaches about 5-foot-6 in his elevator shoes.


Onscreen, though, Cruise stands (thanks to IMAX) 40-feet tall, ready to take on whatever the evil-doers throw his way. Even more amazing, he performs almost all of his own stunts, including a hair-raising climb up a 130-story building. Spider-Man has got nothing on this guy. And what makes him special again goes beyond the terrific actors he surrounds himself with, or the tightly wound script by “Alias” alums Andre Nemec and Josh Appelbaum. No, it comes down to pure unadulterated star power. How do I know? Let’s just say a Bird told me.


MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (PG-13 for scenes of intense action and violence.) Cast includes Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg and Michael Nyqvist. Directed by Brad Bird. 3 stars out of 4