Vanilla Sky

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

VANILLA SKY

2/10

USA 2001
director/script : Cameron Crowe
based on film Abre los Ojos, written by Alejandro Amenabar, Mateo Gil
producers include : Tom Cruise, Crowe
cinematography : John Toll
editing : Joe Hutshing, Mark Livolsi
music : Nancy Wilson
lead actors : Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell
with : Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, Timothy Spall, Tilda Swinton
134 minutes

Crowe and Cruise last teamed up for Jerry Maguire, and Vanilla Sky is their attempt to make up for the megastar’s Oscar loss to then-unknown Geoffrey Rush. Cruise is cocky Manhattan publishing magnate David Aames, a playboy hovering between girlfriend Julie (Diaz) and sultry Sofia (Cruz) until he’s badly injured in a car crash. Or is he? Perhaps it’s all a hallucination – or a dream – or something else entirely.

In the hands of, say, Edward Norton, Aames might have been an Oscar-showcase role. But while Cruise initially looks the part, his limitations become painfully apparent after the smash. David rants and raves, gets drunk, even wears a mask for long periods – and Cruise just goes from bad to worse, and beyond. This is easily the direst performance of his career – the moment when he belts out Joan Osborne’s ‘One of Us’ while being wheeled into an operating theatre will, hopefully, stand as a professional nadir. How galling for Cruise to look on as co-star Diaz is mentioned as a serious Oscar candidate. alongside Nicole Kidman, whose Amenabar project The Others has attracted unanimous rave reviews and award nominations!

The only prize Cruise can expect is Golden Raspberry for Worst Actor – let’s hope he’s got enough class to turn up on the night, like Paul Verhoeven did for Showgirls. Vanilla Sky crudely combines his Total Recall with The Matrix and The Game – for TV viewers, it’s a straight cross between Dennis Potter’s swansong ‘Cold Lazarus’ and 1980 Hammer drama ‘Rude Awakening’. for readers, yet another pale photostat of Recall author Philip K Dick’s masterpiece ‘Ubik’. Also in the mix: Fight Club, Sixth Sense, Usual Suspects, Carnival of Souls, Jacob’s Ladder, Living In Oblivion, Eyes Wide Shut, Audition, AI and Deep Impact, not to mention direct references to Snow White (David calls his publishing-house board ‘the seven dwarves’) and Citizen Kane (they call him ‘Citizen Dildo,’ which would at least have been a better title than the blandly arbitrary Vanilla Sky.)

Nobody’s pretending this project is original, of course: it’s based on another movie (though you do have to stick around for ages during the closing credits to find this out) by a writer who makes no bones about how he combined The Innocents and The Haunting to make The Others. Influence is one thing – execution is another, and this is where Vanilla turns sour. While Crowe’s Almost Famous was enjoyably straightforward, the more ambitiously complex Vanilla somehow ends up both incomprehensible and grindingly predictable. After a strong opening scene, Crowe quickly loses the plot and retreats into fatally indulging his star’s desperate excesses (the weirdest thing about the film is the way David’s mask makes Cruise look so disturbingly like the jowly Crowe himself.)

The results are almost bad enough to be enjoyable, but there’s also a nasty streak of arrogance on view here – everybody knows the actor is short and pushing forty, so why tell us David is 33 and 6ft tall? Even worse: we discover that a significant part of what he’s been experiencing is an artificial state of mind that has “the feeling of a great movie” Dream on, indeed.

With talented writer-directors, it’s the little arbitrary details that can often make a film special. Crowe’s improvisations, however, are whimsical duds that reveal the paucity of his imagination. He fills his movies’ yawning gaps with rock ‘n’ pop pap, on the soundtrack and in the screenplay: “So this is what became of rock ‘n’ roll,” muses Cruz, contemplating a smashed-up guitar framed on David’s wall (this from the man who in Singles had a character living in 1991 Seattle seriously remark “I miss vinyl!”) He’s so out of touch he probably thinks he scored a coup by getting the increasingly embarrassing Paul McCartney to write Vanilla Sky‘s title song. A tinnily inoffensive little ditty, it sounds as if it took about ten minutes knock together – and, needless to say, is being hotly tipped for an Oscar nomination…


22nd January, 2002
(seen Jan-21-02, UCI MetroCentre, Gateshead)

by Neil Young
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