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Vanilla Sky

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Release: 2001, Paramount
Starring: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Jason Lee, Kurt Russell
Director: Cameron Crowe
MPAA Rating: [R] sexuality, nudity, language, violence
Genre: Thriller/Drama


The charmed life of publisher David Aames (Cruise) becomes plagued with bizarre occurrences after a disgruntled girlfriend (Diaz) disfigures him in a car accident.

What's Good
good performances from the principal players
Cameron Diaz is quite the villainous vixen

What's Bad
back-and-forth storytelling that jerks the audience around
the silly "twist ending" sucks
overly saturated with music and music themes

Reviewer: Andrew Manning (12/01)

Vanilla Sky is one of those movies with a twist ending so ludicrous, so forced, and so downright stupid that you just want to spread the word and spare everyone the pain of sitting through the disappointment. Personally, I would love to spell out the conclusion of this two hour farce that makes even A. I. Artificial Intelligence look credible. But since many people like to enjoy and hate movies firsthand, I'll forego the details and just throw out a simple warning: the conclusion sucks.

A remake of the markedly superior 1997 Spanish film Open Your Eyes, Vanilla Sky is the fanciful story of David Aames (Tom Cruise), a media mogul whose life takes a turn into the Twilight Zone when an obsessive girlfriend (Cameron Diaz) drives the both of them off a bridge. The accident leaves David severely disfigured and searching for meaning in his life, which brings him back to his ideal embodiment of true love, an acquaintance named Sofia (Penelope Cruz). But strange things are afoot. Accused of murder, unable to tell friends from enemies, and haunted by his scarred face, David's world descends into a nightmarish realm of unreality. And eventually, he can no longer distinguish between real life and the products of his fevered imagination.

The principal players are all in good form: Tom Cruise effectively pulls you in as a man whose beauty and world have been shattered; Penelope Cruz makes you fall for her with a combination of flirtatious charm, saucy looks, and funky idiosyncrasies; and Cameron Diaz is quite the villainous vixen, what with stalking, obsessing, ranting, and driving people off bridges. In fact, I have to give bonus credit to the leggy, lethal Diaz--who would have thought the girl with the giant, friendly smile could go so Fatal Attraction? And hearing her describe her bedroom exploits in graphic detail scores major points as well (that giant, friendly smile can get really friendly under the right circumstances).

But in spite of its competent cast, Vanilla Sky suffers from a truly bad premise and a poorly executed trick ending. Writer/director Cameron Crowe should stick with mushy relationship crap (Jerry Maguire) and nostalgic tripe (Almost Famous), as his jacking of Alejandro Amenabar's screenplay and attempts at suspense bite. Instead of using a single, jolting revelation that cleverly wraps up everything the story was leading to, the version Crowe presents is a mess of bumbling turns, constantly pulling 180s on established facts in order to shock viewers.

The problem with this back-and-forth storytelling is that audiences quickly grow tired of getting jerked around like this, and by the time the final climax comes, the movie has lost all credibility. Having a surprise ending should not automatically preclude a coherent story, nor should it allow for the most outlandish ending to be picked in a cheap attempt at surprise.

Crowe also indulges his obvious infatuation with music at the expense of his film. While complementary tunes are critical, audiences clearly don't need to be bludgeoned over the head with them. In addition to an overdose of songs constantly being played, themes of music work their insidious way into every pore of Vanilla Sky as inevitably as a lawyer slithering into a John Grisham story: Tom Cruise and Kurt Russell debate their favorite Beatle; doctors ponder the virtues of Madonna; Cruise sings Joan Osborne on his way into the operating room; Russell describes himself as "the opening act"; Cruise and Cruz mull over which CD best fits their mood; guitars are in just about every shot at a birthday party; Cameron Diaz has aspirations of being a singer; Cruise oversees a music-themed magazine; Jason Lee describes the bathroom as being next to "the girl who looks like Bjork"; and Cruise's look is based on an album cover. And the list goes on--these were just the elements I could recall. Some of it fits well and most of the songs are good, but there's a point when Crowe should have given this love affair a rest and invested more attention in spinning a better tale. After all, a movie's success is measured more by its story than its damned soundtrack.

Vanilla Sky had the potential to be a mindbending thriller on par with the likes of Jacob's Ladder. Instead, it turns out to be a severe letdown that will leave audiences groaning as if they had just been told the lamest joke on earth. One wonders just how pissed Amenabar is at having his story remade into such star-powered drivel.

Maybe he should call tech support to put an end to this dream turned nightmare.

Rating: 4 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)

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