*/**** Image A+ Sound A+ Extras B-
starring Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Kurt Russell, Cameron Diaz
screenplay by Cameron Crowe, based on the screenplay for Abre Los Ojos by Alejandro Amenábar and Mateo Gil
directed by Cameron Crowe
by Walter Chaw Vanilla Sky is an unpleasant, incompetent, and laborious amalgam of Jacob's Ladder and The Game, Joe Eszterhas doing Frank Herbert, if you will. It is profane to no good end, forcing Cameron Diaz to define her sexuality through roughly a dozen variations on "I swallowed your come," and is otherwise so sloppily assembled that even the generally arresting Jason Lee is made irritating and superfluous. Cameron Crowe is rapidly becoming a self-indulgent, disingenuous disaster--his films grow more pretentious as his subjects shrink in consequence. After tackling a rose-coloured breed of aggrandizing nostalgia in the overlong Almost Famous, he's decided to remake the mediocre Spanish film Open Your Eyes ("Abre Los Ojos")by flavour of the month Alejandro Amenábar, paying alleged "homage" to about a dozen other directors, movies, and album covers while displaying exactly the same breed of star-deifying that he ostensibly deflated in Almost Famous. Crowe fans should prepare to be disheartened by the realization that the crown prince of weakling uplift has actually fallen down on the altar of the ultimate Kafkaesque Hollywood godhead: Tom Cruise.
The reptilian David Aames (Cruise) drives a Porsche (or vintage Mustang, depending on the reality construct--I'll get to that) around Manhattan in search of racquetball matches and cheap, multiple rolls in the hay with people who resemble Cameron Diaz. It's "living the dream," as David smarms; one can only presume that he's decided to live the nightmare instead when he chooses the "interesting" looking Sofia Serrano (Penélope Cruz) over the "Diaz-looking" Julie Gianni (Diaz) at a drunken bacchanal (that features either a self-aggrandizing cameo by Spielberg or an amazing facsimile of the same). That he would choose Ms. Serrano (doesn't that mean "teeth?") over Julie is a stretch not only because of the admittedly subjective question of attractiveness (with my eye as the beholder, Cruz is no beauty), but also because Cruz is a breathtakingly awful actress--it's Sofia Coppola-impossible to believe that anyone would betray love for her without an ulterior motive. Justifiably miffed to have been shoved aside for Sofia, Julie lures David into her car, then drives them both into a concrete embankment. Horribly disfigured in a Gaston Leroux kind of way (complete with mask), David begins to have terrible visions, appears to have killed someone, and makes altogether too much of the fact that he likes French Nouvelle Vague films.
Rather, Cameron Crowe makes too much of the fact that he has seen a few classic films and glossed some classic vinyl, taking Vanilla Sky's ultimate conceit as carte blanche to construct a film of old parts. So complete is Crowe's self-deception in regards to the validity of his celluloid mélange that the closing credits proclaim, "Written for the screen and adapted by Cameron Crowe." Unless they don't use 'screens' in Spain, Amenábar and Open Your Eyes screenwriter Mateo Gil might have a bone to pick with Crowe's claims of auteurship. Worse is that unlike, say, Martin Scorsese, Crowe was not blessed with the gift to compile a naturalistic, or at least appropriate, soundtrack (as if Humble Pie would blissfully sing along to "Tiny Dancer")--he is a musical dilettante, culling the cream of alterna-cool as it rises without any sense of the chaff. Vanilla Sky features his most awkward mix-tape yet, punctuated by the songs of Peter Gabriel, Jeff Buckley, R.E.M., Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys--"The Last Goodbye" telegraphs a vital moment. Crowe just can't resist the easy cue--neither visually nor aurally--and Vanilla Sky facilitates the writer-director's worst tendencies. The final hour of the bloated running time is a careful handholding session that explicates the film's every last pop-cultural reference, lest you were too busy napping (likely) to notice them.
Vanilla Sky comes off as the cinematic equivalent of the blowhard at the cocktail party spewing trivial non-sequiturs wrapped in purple hyperbole in the hopes that someone gullible will fall in line for a joyless ravishing. Only Tilda Swinton escapes with her dignity intact, in a brief cameo towards the end--her cool bemusement seems to be both a commentary on the film and the perfect attitude to take with the material. Had she been given the Sofia role and the ever-reliable Kurt Russell (appearing as a criminal psychologist or something) the lead, Vanilla Sky would at least be spared a somehow greasier than usual Tom Cruise and Penélope Cruz continuing her hard-won slide into obscurity. Originally published: December 14, 2001.
by Bill Chambers An unusual disc for an unusual (and unusually bad) film, Vanilla Sky's DVD offers an unfamiliar array of options under its main menu--"prelude to a dream," "vanilla sky," and "hitting it hard"--before moving on to the de rigueur Special Features and Set Up selections. "Prelude to a Dream" is a 6-minute, Tom Cruise-produced montage of behind-the-scenes clips voiced-over by would-be pretentious pronouncements from Cameron Crowe. ("Wherever you want to be," he finishes, "[Vanilla Sky] will meet you there." I thought that was Buckaroo Banzai.) "Vanilla Sky" turns out to be, well, Vanilla Sky, sporting about as good a (1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen) DVD transfer as you're ever likely to see, with excellent 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, while "Hitting it Hard" is a 10-minute featurette covering the Vanilla Sky press tour. At first teasing that it will address--or at the very least acknowledge--some of the widespread negative reaction to the film, "Hitting it Hard" quickly settles into cutesy shots of Penélope Cruz dozing off and Crowe imitating aggressive journalists, though it closes with an indiscreet answering-machine message Cruise left for Crowe that's a fascinating glimpse beneath the veil of Cruise's public persona.
Special Features include: an "Entertainment Tonight" segment in which Paul McCartney tells a spectacularly shallow anecdote about his Oscar-nominated title song; the clip-laced video for "Afrika Shox" by Leftfield/Afrika Bambaataa; eight still galleries introduced by Vanilla Sky's on-set photographer Neal Preston, who used to accompany Crowe on his ROLLING STONE assignments; Vanilla Sky's (unreleased) teaser and theatrical trailers, in 5.1; and a long listing of the Paramount DVD's production credits. Crowe has recorded his third commentary track in as many months for Vanilla Sky, this time with "musical accompaniment" from wife (and former member of Heart) Nancy Wilson and a cameo by Cruise. As usual, Crowe is pleasant, generous, and seemingly naïve. Two things he confirms for us: yes, that is Spielberg in attendance at David Aames's birthday party; and second, Crowe doesn't know what the hell Vanilla Sky is trying to say, either. Originally published: May 19, 2002.