Vanilla Sky
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe

Starring Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz


Vanilla Sky

Tom Cruise, arguably the most gorgeous man on the planet, now stars in Cameron Crowe's "Vanilla Sky," a remake of the Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar's "Abre los Ojos ("Open Your Eyes")," whose work we know from his 2001 film "The Others." Crowe's film is about someone who is arguably the most gorgeous man on the planet; and it both gains and suffers from the casting. Cruise plays David Aames, son of a New York media mogul who died and left the empire to him. But David is less interested in managing the business than in living the hedonist's life - giving himself parties (he lives in the legendary Dakota apartment building), sleeping occasionally with his friend Julie (Cameron Diaz) and palling around with his sidekick/acolyte Brian (Jason Lee), a struggling writer.

When Brian brings a new date to the party, Sofia (PenÚlope Cruz), David thinks nothing of trying to steal her. In fact he spends the night at Sofia's apartment, though they do not have sex. But next morning as he leaves, Julie drives up. She has been tailing him, she invites him into the car, she goes ballistic (you'll recall from the trailer her line "When you sleep with someone your body makes a promise to that person!"), and promptly drives the car over a park bridge, killing herself and badly disfiguring David.

At this point the film makes a sharp left turn into never-never land. David is in a coma, or is he? he is in a prison of the mind for murder, or is he? Sofia is back with him, or is she? After some teasing shots, we see that his face is scarred and dislocated, in a way that only a movie about a gorgeous person can show. It appears that he cannot be made whole by plastic surgery and so the doctors give him a mask to wear. And now other questions come and go: Is/was Sofia real? Is/was she actually Julia? The film moves farther and farther into speculative realms, and with each step it becomes less interesting, less compelling, until the bizarre ending comes as nothing more than a blessed relief.

I haven't seen "Open Your Eyes," and so I'm unable to identify a source for the many bizarreries of "Vanilla Sky." But in many ways this film is a corollary to another Cruise vehicle, "Eyes Wide Shut," in which Stanley Kubrick sacrificed believability for image, and ended up losing the power of both. Here Cruise once again plays the enormously attractive man who cannot relate emotionally to another human being. But it is a fatal limitation in Cruise's acting range that he cannot convince us he is the real David Aames. He is still Tom Cruise, relying on that crooked grin, that boyish smile, that startled look - in a word, those acting-school mannerisms - to take control of the screen. You will notice, when you see this film, that when the camera gives us two-shots of Cruise with Diaz or Cruz or Lee, he never actually looks at them, but instead gazes somewhere over their heads, into a space of his own making.

Much of the blame must rest with Cameron Crowe, who has somehow let the film get out of hand. Trying for exciting shots of gorgeous people he loses track of what plot or meaning there is, and particularly in the final hour the film just plods along, ratcheting up the visual images but unable to involve us in any way. We are spectators at the contest but there is no one to root for.

Nevertheless the film is not a blanket failure. PenÚlope Cruz is more sexy and lovable than she has ever been in a film before; she gives herself to Cruise, to Crowe, and to us without holding back; and Crowe has photographed her well. Cameron Diaz tries hard to make sense of a part so underwritten as to be a caricature of a virago, a woman for whom anything less than total and instant commitment is a deadly crime. But then we are stuck with an unmotivated resolution that takes us into an unbearably artificial future in an attempt to make sense of a nonsensical film story. And if you're wondering where the title comes from, it's something Aames describes as the color of the sky in a Monet painting he just happens to own. Amenabar's original title would have worked much better.