Christmas was looking pretty ugly for Hollywood this year. Following 2010, which soared to a finish with jaw-droppers like “The King’s Speech,” “True Grit” and “Black Swan,” 2011 dribbled away with mediocre showings for “We Bought a Zoo” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” not to mention yet another insipid goddamn Chipmunks movie. Box-office sales sank 10 percent. We won’t say this often (or ever again), but thank God for Tom Cruise. Cruise’s latest Mission: Impossible flick is a sleek, bulletproof specimen that resurrects all the infectious pacing and brazen improbabilities of the well-trod, but still not tired, franchise. The movie opens on a caffeinated high note, with Cruise breaking out of prison to the tune of Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.” Once out, he joins forces with team members Simon Pegg and Paula Patton, and the trio heads to Moscow, where they plan to infiltrate the high-security Kremlin. The film earns major points with a clever espionage scheme involving a projector and a screen, punctuated by Pegg’s well-placed comic relief. When the Kremlin is bombed, the mission falls apart, and the group, deprived of agency support, decides to go rogue. In true M: I style, the plot gets nearly impossible to follow from there, with director Brad Bird expertly steering the cast to breathtaking set pieces in India and Dubai. Fortunately, the stunning visuals are as simple as the plot is convoluted. Bird navigates scene after palm-sweating scene with relentless aplomb, and Cruise’s blithe arrogance is the perfect foil to the nervy, vengeful Patton and Pegg’s twitchy humor. The clean, wrenching finale — and the poster’s photo op — comes at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building. As Cruise clings to the dizzyingly high glass exterior with failing equipment, a billowing sandstorm looms in the distance. Say what you will about Tom Cruise (and we will), but the stunts — he did them on site, himself — and the visceral, spine-tingling tension is worth every penny.