Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, Timothy Spall, Tilda Swinton, Alicia Witt, Michael Shannon
Written by: Camerone Crowe, based on a screenplay by Alejandro Amenabar, Mateo Gil
Directed by: Cameron Crowe
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality and strong language
Running Time: 136
Date: 12/10/2001

Vanilla Sky (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Sweet and Sour

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I should make it immediately clear that Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky is a remake. And unlike Steven Soderbergh who took a bad movie and remade it from the ground up with Ocean's Eleven, Crowe took a great movie, Alejandro Amenabar's Open Your Eyes, and began whittling at it from the top down.

In this new version, Tom Cruise stars as David Aames, rich and vain magazine editor who enjoys casual sex with one of his co-workers, Julie (Cameron Diaz). But at his birthday party, his best friend (Jason Lee) brings a girl named Sofia (Penelope Cruz) and David begins to fall in love for real. Unfortunately, the jaded and angry Julie convinces him to take a ride with her and she suicidally drives them both over a ridge, crashing her car.

David wakes up horribly disfigured and unable to face the world. Everything begins to go haywire for him. He's accused of murder, forced to wear a ghostly mask to cover his face, meets with a fatherly shrink (Kurt Russell), and is eventually accused of murder. His true love Sofia also exhibits the bad habit of suddenly changing into Julie.

Made in 1997, Amenabar's Open Your Eyes runs about 120 minutes and generates genuine dread, suspense, and a dark, nightmarish quality. When the twisted plot is finally cleared up at the end, it's explained quickly and cleanly. It instantly became one of Spain's highest grossing films. But its American distributor, Artisan, seriously botched both the American theatrical release and the video release and hardly anyone saw it.

Hardly anyone, that is, except Cruise. In addition to the remake, Cruise also produced Amenabar's first American film, The Others, starring his ex-wife, Nicole Kidman.

Vanilla Sky runs about 15 minutes longer than its predecessor. Writer and director Crowe uses that extra fifteen minutes to dumb down the conclusion, explain it to us carefully and slowly, from several different angles, and then once again just to be sure. In other words, this is the dumb American version.

In addition, Crowe inserts some of his own little touches. Everyone knows that as a former rock journalist, his musical tastes are impeccable, but his rock song selections seem oddly out of place. He also manages to insert music and movie references that jar us out of the context of the story and remind us that he's there. Normally, I don't mind a directorial presence, but only in the context of the film.

All that aside, Vanilla Sky turns out to be a rousing, exhilarating entertainment, thanks mostly to Cruise's balls-to-the-wall performance. It's a little like the master cocksman he played in Magnolia but stretched out to feature length.

Ms. Cruz, who played the same role in Open Your Eyes exhibits wonderfully Audrey Hepburn-esque qualities, making us fall madly in love with her -- using simple gestures, looks, and line readings. This performance should quiet her detractors who say that she's a lousy actress in her English language films. (These detractors usually have not seen her in her wonderful Spanish-language films.)

It's difficult to describe any more of Vanilla Sky without giving away its many surprises. Though Crowe dispenses with the horror of the original, he manages to make the picture a nightmarish thrill ride worth taking.{subid}&url=hitlist.asp?searchfield=marvel
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