STARRING: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Kurt Russell, Cameron Diaz, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, Tilda Swinton, Timothy Spall

2001, 135 Minutes, Directed by: Cameron Crowe

Description: This film follows David Aames (Cruise) as he falls from his graceful Manhattan perch of inordinate wealth, good looks, and newfound love with Sofia (Cruz) because of severe facial disfigurement in a car accident caused by a suicidal ex-lover (Diaz). What at first promises to be a conventional allegory of redemption via true love is turned on its head as Cruise's character, reduced to wearing a latex mask and spurned by his friends, wins back his princess only after a miracle of plastic surgery restores his former beauty. A series of plot twists follows as waking life, technological advances, and nightmares flip-flop to dizzying effect.

Judging from this movie’s marketing you’d be wondering whether a review of Vanilla Sky actually belongs here on The Sci-Fi Movie Page. Yes, it does, largely because of one time-honored sci-fi device, which I unfortunately cannot reveal without breaking the Number One Commandment of Movie Reviewing, namely: “Thou shalt not divulge plot twists or endings in thy reviews.”

However, like the recent M. Night movie Signs, it is extremely difficult to discuss Vanilla Sky without discussing its “surprise” ending. I will however have the following to say about this “plot twist” without spoiling it: one deduces quite early on what it will be, largely thanks to the Law of Screenplay Economics, which requires that your movie shall not have any details that are superfluous to the plot. This simply means that there are seldom any unnecessary details in a movie. If you are shown something that seems insignificant or redundant early on in a movie, that scene is practically a signpost for plot points later on. Bad cell phone reception in a certain area where the characters usually drive (What Lies Beneath)? Later on, you’ll know it’ll be important.

"It just makes things easier to believe that good-looking rich folks are just as miserable and unhappy as the rest of us!"

The same goes for Vanilla Sky. Early on I had figured out the general gist of the “surprise” ending, and hoped I was wrong: as far as “surprise endings” go this one didn’t come as a particular surprise (I’m not one of those people who claim to have figured out the ending of Sixth Sense long before the ending) and was rather redundant. To a degree the movie could have worked without it.

Or maybe not. Once stripped of its dull “surprise ending” there isn’t much in Vanilla Sky to recommend itself. Tom Cruise plays a vapid and shallow young multi-millionaire (he inherited his fortune), blessed with annoyingly good looks who sleeps with supermodels and drives a Porsche. Yeah, now there’s a character your ordinary cinemagoer can identify with, eh? To make things worse the Cruise character is self-centered and bland, and remains so throughout the entire movie even after his face is disfigured in a car accident and walks around with one of Michael Meyer’s (the Halloween movies killer) masks for a huge chunk of the movie.

Does Cruise’s character come to some sort of insight because of his predicament? Does he become more likeable? No on both counts, I’m afraid. Yet the movie expects us to be sympathetic towards him for some reason, all the while one can’t believe that his friends put up with so much of his crap even when they don’t have to anymore. Cruise’s love interest in the guise of Penelope Cruz isn’t much more believable either and while there are some neat performances in the supporting roles, the battle is lost once one really doesn’t care for the leads.

A remake of a Spanish movie (Alejandro Amenábar's 1997 romantic thriller Open Your Eyes), it is unclear what exactly attracted director Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire) to this material. Crowe is better at more light-weight fare that taps into the pop cultural zeitgeist than with something like this which has more portentous themes. Instead Crowe directs the movie like one long music video, inserting various pop songs (by the likes of R.E.M. and Bob Dylan) into the action where they only attract attention to themselves rather than add to the ambience.

Ultimately Vanilla Sky is like its lead actors: pleasant to look at, but shallow and uninvolving a psychological drama without any interesting insights other than maybe that good looks and money do equal happiness (as one critic pointed out), which makes it the ideological opposite of the classic Seconds . . .

Rather give me my Seconds then . . . because it just makes things easier to believe that good-looking rich folks are just as miserable and unhappy as the rest of us.



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