What happens when you turn over a successful action film franchise to a guy whose only experience in film involves animated characters? You get an action film with so much imagination that even Tom Cruise can't screw it up.


Film director Brad Bird's only other experiences in film were as director of "The Iron Giant", "The Incredibles", "Ratatouille", and a couple of episodes of The Simpson's; never any live action films. Yet he jumped at the chance to helm this fourth installment of the Tom Cruise espionage franchise.


The first thing he did was upgrade the support cast by adding 2-time Oscar nominated actor Jeremy Renner and the ultra-hot Paula Patton to the crew (shelving Ving Rhames for the moment). He returns the popular (and funny) Simon Pegg as a field agent instead of just a gadget guru.

The story has Ethan Hunt (Cruise) in a Russian prison after exacting revenge on Serbians for killing his wife (his wife's death is an understory). The team extracts him from the prison in an exciting opening sequence reminiscent of old James Bond films.


After his escape, he gets an assignment to break into the Kremlin not knowing that an evil operative code-named Cobra has the same idea. During the exercise the Kremlin is blown up and of course all evidence points to IMF - and Hunt's crew - as the culprits.


Tom Wilkerson in a brief appearance as the IMF secretary informs Hunt of the developing news and tells him that the only way to clear the team's name is to go rogue - though the United States government has now completely denounced them.


This begins a global trot from Russia to Dubai to India in pursuit of Cobra.

It also begins a seemingly endless sequence of action scenes involving Hunt traversing the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) on the outside. These are stunts that even 007 wouldn't try!


The efforts are to get their hands on nuclear launch codes before Cobra can use them to start global thermonuclear war. It is at this point that we learn that Brandt (Renner) is more than a brainiac as he was introduced by the secretary. Moreover, Jane (Patton) must try to set aside her anger at the woman (Lea Seydoux) who killed her one-time partner.


Secrets are revealed; feelings emoted.


Not so much as to detract from the action, but enough to close some of the holes left in "Mission: Impossible 3".


Each action sequence is thoughtfully developed and executed with just the right amount of humor - mostly provided by Pegg - and violence. And of course, some of the most implausible technology that the CIA would kill to own. IMF out gadgets James Bond. Hands down.


The only question is if Jeremy Renner is a permanent addition to the team or Ethan Hunt's logical replacement. Given previous films ("Hurt Locker" and "The Town") and current production of "The Bourne Legacy" (where he replaces Jason Bourn with his

own character Aaron Cross) one can't help but wonder. For Paula Patton, this is a golden opportunity to showcase how drop dead gorgeous she really in a big budget actioner.


"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" is a non-stop, adrenalin filled action thriller that easily is the best of the franchise. After lots of cast tinkering, director Brad Bird - and animator - gets it right.   -- GEOFF BURTON