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IN SHORT: File under "What The Heck Was That?????". [Rated R for sexuality and strong language. 126 minutes]
....or Tom Cruise has lost his mind. No, Cruise, the actor, is quite sane. Whether or not his character in writer/director Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky certainly is the question on the table. What director Alejandro Amenábar wanted to do in his Spanish language film Open Your Eyes, the basis of this film, Crowe has accomplished. He has managed to confuse the heck out of an audience, stretching our ability to care past the breaking point and yielding an utterly unwatchable film -- unless we clue you in by dropping one hyphenated phrase on your heads which will give you a reason to hold on tight until all is explained. Which we will, below.
We saw Amenábar's film when it was released here in the states back in 1999. Short of some preliminary press material trumpeting the fact that Penélope Cruz starred in the original as well as the English remake, we did not look up the old review to reacquaint ourselves with the original writer/director's intent (that minor comment above is post facto). We don't compare to Source Material. You can read the original review if you'd like -- though it isn't much of a review. When you get to read everything in subtitles, the storytelling is a different animal and we didn't work very hard on it. That's to your benefit, if you slog through this one.
Ah, the life of boy billionaire David Aames (Tom Cruise, click for StarTalk). He's got a publishing empire inherited from mom and dad, deceased, with hours as lax as he can make 'em. He's got leggy blonde rumblebunny Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz) who is so madly in love she'll wait, and wait and wait, for the next phone call. He parties with mega-powered stars of stage, screen and CDs (watch for a special appearance by TC's next boss The Great John Sypolt!) and the only thorn in his side is a Board of Directors he derisively refers to as the Seven Dwarfs. His best friend is Brian Shelby (Jason Lee) and Brian's new best friend is named Sofia (Penélope Cruz). One glance between the two and it's love at first sight. The second time, apparently, Aames has stolen a girl from Shelby.
Ah, if it were only this simple in the movies. Because smack dab in the middle of this, Aames is seen wearing a high-tech Jason mask and is being psychoexamined by a guy named McCabe (Kurt Russell) pending a formal charge of murder by police authorities. Without even you time to go "huh?," things flop back to normal as Aames and Sofia share a platonic night. Julie has become a stalker and then comes an accident that's been screaming out of the television ads and turns Our Hero's handsome face into a road map of scars.
We're pretty sure that accident actually happened, even though this story features a character who can't tell reality from dreams. While you try to figure out what the heck is going on, voila! Aames' face flips back and forth with said scars sometimes just moving around a little. Or maybe his paralyzed arm is moving just fine. Or maybe he's blown millions on experimental medical techniques. Or maybe his face is fine but he just thinks it's scarred! Or maybe he's wallowing in pity 'cuz his face is scarred and the true love of his life -- the second girl he's stolen from his best friend (apparently Julie came first, then Sofia) -- dumps him for her original stick.
Or, maybe, David Aames is completely out of his mind and all those "or" used above is just a glimpse of that insanity from the inside. That incorrect assumption, alongside one helluva performance by Tom Cruise, was all that kept us hanging on through the bewildering and flat out incomprehensible first two thirds of Vanilla Sky.
Whatever the truth of the matter is, Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky, named after a painting briefly seen hanging on a wall, is one of the most annoying sits we've endured all year. If and only if you make it to the Third Act still intrigued by the utter morass that's been dumped onto your head then, and only then, does Mr. Crowe explain it all to you. Granted, that explanation makes perfect sense in a science-fiction kind of way -- there's that hyphenate we told you to look for -- but if you walk in looking for the murder mystery that is being advertised, you're dead out of luck. As good as Tom Cruise is, and pulling off the number of mental states that his character goes through is a pretty good feat, the construction of the film kills any enjoyment value.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Vanilla Sky, he would have paid . . .
We will hazard a guess that Crowe, the writer, buried a lot of clues to the "mystery" throughout the first two acts of his film. One of the major clues is in the description above and only makes sense after the fact. If our guess is right, then Crowe has made a film for your video machines, so you can dissect every scene for clues. Feh.
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