Cruise control at zero
Wannabe art film Vanilla Sky is a pretentious and overwrought waste
The protagonist of Vanilla Sky is trapped in a bad dream, or maybe not. And the film itself is trapped in a solipsistic dream of an artsy movie, or maybe not. Either way, however, it’s a nightmare for the audience.
Adapted by Cameron Crowe from a 1998 Spanish film called Open Your Eyes, this is contemporary American moviemaking of a particularly pretentious and overwrought sort. Neither Crowe’s dialogue (which is glib and facile) nor the mugging of an attractive cast (Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Jason Lee) serves the psychodrama well, and the dream-and-fantasy structure of the narrative is so laboriously tricked out that the basic premises never get off the ground.
Crowe and company are tracking the story of a young publishing mogul (played by Cruise) whose freewheeling love life gets tangled up with a couple of hot babes (Cruz and Diaz) and who finds himself disfigured and charged with murder after surviving a fatal car wreck. A flashback structure peppered with dream episodes and morphed identities swamps both the murder mystery elements and the conflicting love stories.
And Cruise himself is no real help. He never gets beyond the initial impressions that his character here is a self-centered, narcissistic jerk, and the tale, however surreal and complex, becomes a forced march, with the filmmakers presuming sympathetic interest where none is present (apart from the arbitrary sort implied by star status). Even the Pirandellian riffs of Cruise playing a Cruise-like personality lead only to dead ends.
Crowe and company lose themselves in territory lying somewhere between Eyes Wide Shut and Mulholland Drive. But Crowe has neither the diabolical inventiveness of Kubrick nor the sleepwalking genius of Lynch. Instead Vanilla Sky wallows in and out of a disco version of Phantom of the Opera and eventually resorts to a touch of science fiction. And the rest of the time it’s a rock-'n'-roll fun-lover flailing around in something like a complacent cocksman’s worst-case scenario.
Cruz, who was in the Spanish original also, is cloyingly cute here. The seemingly irresistible Diaz succeeds only in seeming bitchy and cynical. Timothy Spall’s maudlin lawyer gives the film its one touch of sanity, in vain.
And Kurt Russell—well, any movie that casts him as a psychiatrist must be pulling your leg.