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Vanilla Sky

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Vanilla Sky

Starring: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz
Director: Cameron Crowe
Rated: R
RunTime: 130 Minutes
Release Date: December 2001
Genres: Drama, Romance




Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When Calderon de la Barca wrote "Life is a Dream" some centuries back, he could not have imagined that an entity called Hollywood would expound many, many times on his theory and throw images across the screen that would make off-off Broadway stage productions of his play look neolithic. The latest dreamer is Cameron Crowe who has given the American treatment to Spanish filmmakers Mateo Gil and Alejandro Amenabar's "Abre Los Ojos." Crowe is the guy for the job, having written as a teen for Rolling Stone magazine and having put his own novel, "Fast Time At Ridgemont High" on the screen. Known for his hip style and for illustrating arresting characters like Jerry Maguire, Crowe has now substituted the cool realism of "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous" for an out-and-out surreal adventure into the land of fancy--the expanse that every one of us enters many times during a twenty-four hour period for better or worse depending on what our subconscious evokes at night.

Like "Mulholland Drive"--which has more internal logical than "Vanilla Sky"--Cameron Crowe's new film leads some moviegoers to wonder "what was that all about?" and even Roger Ebert had to go to his screening room twice before he could make something of it. But if you treat the story as though it were a morality play, you could see that Crowe is teaching his principal character, the rich, handsome, popular, has-it-all, 33-year-old David Aames (Tom Cruise) that he has not been treating women well. The film's message, "Shape up" becomes clear by the conclusion of the 135-minute drama, as Crowe takes us deep into the man's interior faculties.

A good deal of the story revolves around the party lives of yuppies, principally of David--who entertains gorgeous women in his unbelievable condo and frequents some of the best clubs in Manhattan where every female looks like the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine and probably acts accordingly. David's main squeeze at the time is Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz), who is enraged when David turns her out in favor of his new eye candy, Sofia Serrano (Penelope Cruz). What's more he steals Sofia away from his best pal, Brian Shelby (Jason Lee), giving him two moral strikes right off the bat. What David has not anticipated is the rage which his action fuels in Julie, so that by the time Julie takes goes out of control while driving him around Manhattan, seeming to forfeit her own life while leaving David inoperably scarred, the hapless man apparently loses his mind and ends up in jail for murder.

In the film's most stirring scene, Cameron Crowe pulls a David Lynch with a knock-your-socks-off identity switch that will leave you wondering what the heck is going on. It's no wonder that David needs to undergo a series of psychoanalytic sessions with dr. McCabe (Kurt Russell), who makes David realize that murder, and not his dreadfully mangled face, is the real problem.

Tom Cruise smiles too much, as expected, but perhaps this excessive showing of his teeth is evoked more by his character's contempt for women than by actual happiness or good spirits. When he cruises with Penelope and faces off with Julie, the chemistry is there, all right, and while "Vanilla Sky" gives "Abre los Ojos" the inevitable slick feel of Hollywood, taking away some of the more earthy ambiance of the Spanish version, Crowe does not ruin the latter in the way that George Sluizer wrecked his own Dutch-French film "The Vanishing" by Americanizing it with a happy ending. "Vanilla Sky" is among the more cinematic offerings of the year, casting aside the dull naturalism of, say, a "Joe Somebody" in favor of a moral exploration of an egotist's subconscious terror.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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