A messy affair
The duo of writer-director Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise who warmed your heart in Jerry Maguire will severely test your patience in Vanilla Sky.
Crowe, the guru of coming-of-age dramas and romantic comedies, abandons his trademark feel-good territory and veers into feel-confused land with this adaptation of the 1997 Spanish thriller Abre les Ojos.
With another recent big release, Ocean's Eleven, also a remake -- this one of a mediocre 1960 Frank Sinatra flick -- one has to wonder whether Hollywood is so desperate for ideas that big-name directors and stars have to resort to remakes.
Vanilla Sky begins with Tom Cruise running frantically through an empty Times Square in New York City.
The logistical feat of clearing out the world's busiest blocks of all human and vehicular activity may well be this film's strongest achievement.
Cruise is David Aames, a wealthy New Yorker, breezing through life on the strength of his inherited publishing empire.
He is vain, mugs in front of the mirror, and carefully plucks out errant gray strands of hair. At his 33rd birthday party, David runs into Sofia (Spanish actress Penelope Cruz).
Sofia is his best friend Brian's (Jason Lee) date, but that doesn't stop the self-centered David from pursuing her without compunction.
You may think Sofia's accent tiresome, but David finds her to be a breath of fresh Mediterranean air in a city full of jaded women. David becomes a changed man, ready to give up his womanising ways.
But his current fling-of-the-week Julie (Cameron Diaz) has other ideas.
The jilted Julie, who seems to be suffering from a case of Fatal Attraction-itis, isn't in a very forgiving mood.
Unfortunately, before David can employ his 1000-watt smile to smooth things out, he ends up in a horrific car crash that disfigures him and turns his life upside down.
Things are nicely poised at this point, but then the plot takes on weird metaphysical tones and I couldn't give the story away if I wanted to.
What began as an erotic thriller turns into a mishmash of genres -- a psychological drama, a whodunit, and a meditation on loss and vanity, topped with hallucinatory sci-fi themes.
And while you're at it, throw in a dollop of existential conundrum as well.
The sudden shift in the plot seems deceptively exciting at first. But then as the twists get increasingly bizarre, Crowe loses his grip and the film falls on the wrong side of the thin line between profundity and absurdity.
Cruise, a hardworking actor as always, does a decent job but fails to adequately capture David's emotionally wrenching journey.
David's facial disfigurement almost seems like a plot device that screams, "Look! I'm really acting and not hiding behind my pretty face."
Cruise is able to bring his character's humanity to the surface only once when in a crowded nightclub, stung by Sofia's rejection, he stands with his shoulders slumped, looking humiliated and painfully lost.
Frail and delicate Penelope Cruz is beautifully alright with a good screen chemistry with Cruise.
Cameron Diaz, who gets better with each film, brings nervous energy to her brief role as an emotionally unstable and obsessive woman.
Jason Lee and Kurt Russell, as a psychologist, are wasted and in a vindication of the moviegoer's state of mind, have puzzled expressions on their faces towards the end.
Vanilla Sky is not a complete failure by any means. But after the promising start, it implodes into a murky mess and one walks out of the theatre frustrated, wondering about what could have been.