Vanilla Sky

In David Fincher’s, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s, David Cronenberg’s or even the late Stanley Kubrick’s hands a remake of “Abre Los Ojos” (1997) might have had a chance.

With Alejandro Amenbar and Mateo Gil’s mind-bending material – it questions what’s real and what’s a dream – and a director’s unique vision, the result could have rivaled “Jacob’s Ladder” or even “The Matrix.”

But Cameron Crowe – the director who gave us snuggle up, relationship films including “Jerry Maguire” and “Singles” – proves out of his element. He excels when directing his own material, but when it’s someone else’s – Crowe adapts the Spanish-language screenplay – he trips, stumbles and crashes to the concrete.

In essence, what could have been intriguing, visually stunning and challenging, merely fizzles and disappoints, which is too bad.

Advance press whet a lot of appetites.

Thanks to his father’s inheritance, David Aames (Tom Cruise) has everything – money, looks, celebrity and women.

The only thing he doesn’t have is true love.

Sure, he has frequent dalliances with bed buddy Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz), but for him, it’s nothing more than scratching an itch.

That changes when, at a party, he meets Sophia (Penelope Cruz), his best friend’s (Jason Lee) date; she wears an oversized coat and spills her drink on him. He’s immediately smitten with this dark-haired dancer, enough to show her one of his favorite paintings, Monet’s “Vanilla Sky.”

It isn’t long before they are falling in love.

Then tragedy strikes. Jealous over Aames’ new infatuation, Gianni takes a high-speed dive off a bridge with Aames in the seat next to her. Disfigured, Aames attempts to rebuild his life. If he can keep the phantoms from his past at bay.

Apparently, Cruise saw the 1997 film and fell in love with it. He acquired the rights and immediately brought the project to Crowe, his friend since the two collaborated on “Maguire.” Crowe admits to being intrigued by the existential plot, and Cruise finds another opportunity to play a self-centered, cocky playboy – a real stretch for him.

Crowe set about adapting the script, changing the setting from Spain to Manhattan and referencing “rock” culture.

Cruz reprises her “Abre Los Ojos” role as the adorable twinkling-eyed girl, and Diaz gets to play the dangerous hottie, alternating giggling and teeth-flashing with cold stares.

As with his other films, Crowe places considerable emphasis on his soundtrack, including a diverse melange of rock classics by Paul McCartney, Todd Rundgren, the Beach Boys and Bob Dylan, and contemporary tunes penned by the Chemical Brothers, R.E.M. and Radiohead.

It seems a winning formula. So what goes wrong?

For one, the lead doesn’t have the talent to make this role work. Because Aames is odious to humanity, Cruise has to work that much more to get us to care. He never does get our sympathy, though, because he chooses to play this guy as a one-dimensional jerk. Aames is a spoiled, rich kid dealt consequences commensurate to his actions; he uses people for what he wants, then casts them aside.

So, what if he’s no longer beautiful? If he had something inside to offer the world that probably wouldn’t have made that much of a difference.

If you aren’t a Cruise fan, as I’m not, you won’t stomach this film well.

The other characters aren’t any more interesting.

Cruz spends half the movie smiling and batting her eyes, acting like a Spanish puppy dog; and Diaz mistakes psychosis for flirtatiousness.

Lee has the only character that intrigues, but sadly, he remains a sketchy prop for Cruise to lean against.

Second, those who consume a steady diet of science fiction probably can make some radical leaps. They can accept we are batteries fueling a computer that in turn feeds us our reality. They can believe that, provided we find a black hole or time machine, we can leap forward and backward in time. And that if a person spends considerable time in an isolation chamber he or she will begin to de-evolve. Sci-fi fans can pick up visual clues and follow disconnected streams of consciousness.

Crowe, who specializes in modern love stories, doesn’t understand this. Because if he did, he wouldn’t have felt the need to repeatedly hit us over the head with reoccurring images. Follow the bouncing ball and pay attention to the thawed out dog, the words “open your eyes” and the “vanilla sky.” These are keys to uncovering the plot. Well, duh.

And as if we still didn’t get it, he tacks on the most insulting ending imaginable. In case some of you have been snoozing, this is what the entire film is about. Ugh. American filmmakers. Want some McBurgers and McFries with that movie?

Crowe wants to be M. Night Shyamalan. He wants his ending to be a revelation that ties everything together. Maybe he should watch “Sixth Sense” a couple more times, because he didn’t get it.

Watching “Vanilla Sky” reminds me of those bad ’80s “message films,” such as “Less Than Zero.”

You mean taking a lot of drugs can actually like kill you? That money can’t buy you happiness? Oh, my gawd. What’s worse is when the film finally delivers it’s “message,” it’s so simplistic you might just be tempted to rip your eyelashes out.

“Vanilla Sky” might not be this year’s worst film, but it’s certainly one of the more painful to watch.

Author: Julien R. Fielding

Julien R. Fielding has been reviewing films, and covering the entertainment industry, for more than a decade. Her favorite genres are sci-fi, horror, action, and anime. She authored the book, Discovering World Religions at 24 Frames Per Second.

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