Vanilla Sky

Vanilla Sky (15)

HOW many films have based their storyline on the infinitesimal borderline between sanity and madness, or the consideration of what is real as opposed to what is imagined?

In truth it must be hundreds – even thousands. The latest to join that unusual genre is Vanilla Sky, a muddled, lacklustre Americanisation of the Spanish drama Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) in which Tom Cruise is the rich dilettante whose life takes on a new, fantastic quality through his relationship with a beautiful young woman.

But throughout the playing of the picture (and, particularly towards its finale) Vanilla Sky seems to unconsciously – certainly accidentally – knock away the building blocks of its own foundation, losing the plot and failing to live up to the premise of its somewhat illustrious predecessor.

What remains is a messy, convoluted drama created as a vehicle for Tom Cruise and missing its target by miles. This is a movie from the ‘King’s New Clothes’ school of filmmaking – an ill-judged and misconceived remake about which few people have the nerve to speak the truth.

Cruise plays wealthy publishing heir David Aames, a lonely billionaire whose life is one long round of fripperies, parties, morning workouts and casual sex with his ravenous ‘fuck buddy’ Julie (Cameron Diaz).

Life is meandering along nicely until his best friend, Brian (Jason Lee) brings his new date, the enigmatic Sofia (Penelope Cruz re-playing her role from Abre Los Ojos) to David’s party. David is immediately smitten and steals her from his friend without a second glance. Brian, meanwhile, swallows his pride and speaks to Julie, the girl of his dreams. Julie, meanwhile, watches David’s progress with Sofia with mounting, cold-eyed jealousy.

What follows involves obsession, mutilation, self-loathing, fear, neurosis, madness and murder. David believes he is losing his mind. Is Julie dead? Someone has been murdered, but whom? Why is David wearing a prosthetic mask over his face? Is he the victim of a car accident? Is it all in his mind?

Perhaps the most satisfying element of this mostly unsatisfying mish-mash of wannabe neurotic passion play and sci-fi thriller is the interplay between Cruise and Cruz, who famously began their love affair while shooting. There is discernible electricity between them whenever they share a scene.

That said, by far the best performance comes from Diaz performing in little more than a guest role as Cruise’s regular squeeze. Her two main scenes – one post-coital as a doe-eyed lover, the other in a car as a frenzied, spurned woman – provide the shattering emotional high points of the film.

Our own Tilda Swinton also enjoys herself as an icily efficient saleswoman for a bizarre cryogenics corporation, though her late appearance in the proceedings does little to lift it from the swamp of its own lofty aspirations.

Written (for American audiences) and directed by Cameron Crowe, whose last Cruise collaboration, Jerry Maguire, earned the star an Oscar nomination, Vanilla Sky is a modern day Jekyll and Hyde tale where the entire dramatic impact of the story hinges on the audience’s capacity to envelop itself in dreams/reality, and fantasy/nightmare. Throw in insanity and infatuation and moments that would not be out of place in a David Lynch film and Crowe attempts to deliver a genuine movie conundrum which, at its long-overdue denouement, falls flat on its face.

This is too clever-clever – a labyrinthine hotchpotch of ideas and vague concepts that purports to offer Cruise yet another in his series of ‘serious’ roles after Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia but only succeeds in being a gigantic misfire.

Clearly seeking that elusive Best Actor Oscar, he’ll have to do better than this.

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