Tom Cruise eyes new 'Mission: Impossible'

Teaming with J.J. Abrams for a fourth installment

J.J. Abrams and Tom Cruise are getting back in business with each other. The two have agreed to co-produce a fourth "Mission: Impossible" movie for Paramount with a potential 2011 release date.

Abrams directed Cruise in the third installment of the TV-derived franchise, which grossed $395 million worldwide in summer 2006.

But the future of the franchise was thrown into doubt -- at least in terms of Cruise's participation -- after Viacom topper Sumner Redstone discontinued his studio's long relationship with the star three months after the movie opened.

Relatively speaking, "MI:3" was a boxoffice disappointment, since the second film grossed $545 million worldwide and the original raked in $452 million.

Rumors circulated last year about a Paramount exec suggesting that Cruise would do well to merely produce another sequel and reboot the franchise with a younger star.

Though the ostensible meeting to discuss that scenario was denied by those who would know, the reteaming of Cruise and Abrams is intriguing for what it says -- or leaves unanswered -- about another installment.

Abrams has recently rebooted a moribund franchise by taking it back to its beginnings with a bunch of young, hot, relatively unknown actors. His "Star Trek," released six weeks ago, has grossed $335 million worldwide so far.

Though Abrams is not on board to direct the new "Impossible," he and Cruise could reconceive it in a way that is closer to the ensemble approach of the TV series.

Or they could reconfigure Cruise as Ethan Hunt in a less front-and-center role, as some kind of mentor to the new M:I crew. No writers have been hired to work on the fourth iteration of the franchise.

Then again, no one can rule out Cruise as the guy who will carry the franchise for the duration. He remains a bonafide star, having pushed the UA thriller "Valkyrie," saddled as it was with tons of bad media prerelease, to $200 million in worldwide grosses.

And Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis recently managed to carry their "Indiana Jones" and "Die Hard" franchises forward with a fourth blockbuster step -- and both have a number of years on Cruise, 46.

Cruise and Abrams are now committed to other projects.

Abrams is producing a "Trek" sequel for Paramount with Bad Robot partner Bryan Burk. Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof are writing that screenplay for a potential summer 2011 release. He is also producing the comedy "Morning Glory" for Paramount, which has Ford, Rachel McAdams and Diane Keaton starring.

Cruise, a principal at UA, has been juggling potential starring roles in a number of projects, with an untitled Fox thriller the most likely. He would star with Cameron Diaz for director James Mangold.

But he has also been on the fence about "Motorcade," which Billy Ray has been writing for director Len Wiseman at DreamWorks, and "The Matarese Circle," which David Cronenberg is directing from a script now being reshaped by Paul Attanasio. Denzel Washington would co-star with Cruise in that MGM action thriller.
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