by Brian McKay
Conversation overheard at a Hollywood party. AHNOLD: "Hey, Tom, I like your new movie." CRUISE: "Hey, thanks". AHNOLD: "Ya, I liked it so much I made it ten years ago, only `Total Recall' was a better title." Conversation overheard at another Hollywood party: KEANU: "Whoa, Tom, I dug your new movie." CRUISE: "Gee, thanks". KEANU: "Yeah, I liked it so much I made it two years ago." Conversation overheard at yet another Hollywood party. LYNCH: "Hey Cameron, love the new movie." CROWE: "Wow, thanks David." LYNCH: "Yeah, I liked it so much, I made a career out of it."One cannot dispute that Cameron Crowe's track record, though composed of only half a dozen well-spaced films, has been rock solid up to now. But with experimentation comes inherent risk. While "Vanilla Sky" deviates far from the kind of film we would expect from Mr. Crowe, the deviation is, for the most part, neither enjoyable or welcome. Oh, in internet geek tradition, let me give you fair warning. SOME SPOILERS AHEAD.
"These Skies are not only Vanilla, but a bit too familiar"
Tom Cruise once again plays himself playing a character. The character in question is one David Aames, spoiled rich kid and heir to a publishing fortune. He lives a rock and roll lifestyle, ditching important meetings with a hostile board of directors to hang with his buddy, Brian (The always enjoyable Jason Lee). He has parties full of beautiful women, and brushes off Julie (Cameron Diaz), the one girl who loves him obsessively, as a mere "fuck buddy", not realizing the devastating consequences of that decision which lay ahead.
When he meets Sofia (Penelope Cruz, which is one "Cruise" too many in this film), he is smitten with her immediately and ditches Julie to spend the night with Sofia. In a refreshing change of pace, they don't fuck on the first date, but rather fall back on the old romantic cliche' of staying up talking all night long. Unfortunately, they have nothing interesting to talk about, since both the actors and the characters they are portraying are generally vapid individuals with no believable chemistry between them. The next morning, as he is leaving Sofia's apartment, David is met by Julie, who has been following him. She asks him to get into the car with her for one last ride, "for old times' sake". Unfortunately, it turns out to be a death ride. The unstable Julie, unable to face life without David, drives the car off the bridge. It kills her, but leaves him a shattered recluse with disfiguring injuries. In a last ditch effort to regain his life, he meets up with Sofia once more and tries to rekindle their relationship. She agrees to go out with him at first, but soon turns away, uncomfortable with his disfigurement as much as his increasingly erratic behavior. David ends up passed out in a gutter. Then shit starts to get wierd.
Crowe takes us off into some kind of bizarre la-la land that is reminiscent of a David Lynch film or "Jacob's Ladder", but is not nearly as intriguing or well-crafted as either. He begins to flip back and forth between realities, from alone and disfigured to whole and in love with Sofia. Then identities start to get shuffled as Sofia and Julie become interchangable. Meanwhile, as David tries to remember what is real and what is dream, we are shown numerous scenes of him in prison, wearing a creepy yet ridiculous Michael Meyers mask to hide his scarred face, and keeping psychiatric counsel with state-appointed shrink Curtis McCabe (Kurt Russell, a pleasant surprise). He's in prison because it appears he has murdered someone, although he's not sure who.
I can't say it's a truly awful film, because it has some moments of ingenuity. But overall, it's a tiresome, plodding journey, rife with bad dialouge (CRUZ: "I'll tell you in another life, when we are both cats.". What the FUCK? something must have been lost in the translation from Spanish), unsympathetic main characters (although Russell, Diaz, and Lee are almost good enough to make up for the leads), jarringly out of place music, and a meandering story that takes far too long to deliver up a somewhat unsatisfying payoff. It's just interesting enough to keep you watching so that you can unravel the spaghetti twists and turns, but when you finally do, you'll most likely end up saying "What, that's IT?" Of course, it is all in the eye of the beholder. Some may argue that it is genius, that it had to start out so badly to end so well. But for me, it was a case of too little, too late, and just a bit too familiar.
Tom Cruise seems to do no better or worse than usual, but somehow he evokes little sympathy or interest. Granted, he always plays rich, good-looking arrogant guys anyway, but he usually manages to project likeability into the mix as well. And for the love of Chirst, can we stop making movies with Penelope Cruz? She can't act, she can barely speak intelligible dialouge, and she ain't even all that hot. She is a textbook case of why models should not be confused with actresses. On the plus side, though, she does show her rack in this film, and it's respectable.I won't come down too hard on Crowe for making this film. After all, who is this jerk-off internet wannabe film critic to dis the guy who made "Almost Famous" and "Jerry Maguire"? But I'm not going to defend this as a good film just because it came from a great director. It has too many fatal flaws to earn rightful membership in the Crowe Pantheon.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4641&reviewer=258
originally posted: 12/17/01 17:44:52