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Paramount Pictures
Official Site
Director: Cameron Crowe
Producers: Tom Cruise, Paul Wagner, Donald J. Lee Jr.
Written by: Alejandro Amenabar, Cameron Crowe
Cast: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell, Jason Lee

Rating: out of 5

For Cameron Croweís fifth outing, he decided to grow up. He would abandon the idealistic romanticism of his youth (Say Anything, Jerry Maguire), move beyond the nostalgic meditation of the way things were (Almost Famous), and attempt to make a lasting and meaningful contribution to the film world. His effort results as most adolescentsí attempts to become adults do: a blend of youthful immaturity and melodramatic heaviness. Most teens even discover their maturity through the use of another adultís ideas, exactly like this movie, which is based on a highly regarded Spanish movie called Abre Los Ojos. Iíve never seen it.

Vanilla Sky tells the story of David Aames (Cruise), a rich 30-something playboy who passes through life without a care. He lives a decadent life made even more decadent by his non-commitment ďfuck buddyĒ Julie Gianni (Diaz). Things change when Aamesí friend Shelby (Lee) brings Sofia (Cruz) to Aamesí birthday party. They fall madly in love. The next day, Aames discovers that Gianni maybe less of a commitment-phobe than he thought, when in a fit of jealousy and rage, she drives them both off a bridge. They reveal all of that in the trailer, and it only takes about 30 minutes of the film. So where does the rest go? Indulging such plot developments would ruin this type of movie. Youíll just have to see it.

The movie shines in many areas. The acting, for one, is top-notch. Tom Cruise, despite Mission Impossible: 2, demands respect. Between this movie, Eyes Wide Shut, and Magnolia, he has turned himself into a powerful and intelligent actor. After the initial playboy stage, his character passes through a dramatic change. He embodies the change perfectly and brings fabulous depth and understanding to the role. But heís not alone in the acting credit. Much respect is due to Cameron Diaz, whom I have never liked in anything. She plays the jealous bitch as both sweet and sour which helps us to understand why Aames needs to be nice to people. Best of all is Jason Lee, though. Despite a modicum of screen time, he manages to subtly emote a broad range of feelings. Ever since Mallrats, Iíve wished to see him in more movies. Perhaps now heíll receive some deserved recognition. Unfortunately, Cruz is lackluster. Somehow her part never comes across with the emotional depth that it warrants. She cries, smiles, and looks pretty.

The cinematography also deserves commendation. Several images from the film will stay implanted in my memory forever. In particular, the car crash had such a powerful impact that it will always be the dominant image I associate with this movie. Some of the images haunt, others amaze, and many electrify. Visually, the film may be considered a masterpiece. But make no mistake; itís not one.

My most grievous complain, and the one that will enrage Crowe fans, is the music. Not that I dislike the songs themselves. I rarely think about soundtracks conscientiously and cannot even remember a single tune that was played. I feel that soundtracks should add to the mood and ambience without drawing attention to themselves. Some of these do not. At the end of the movie, when all is about to be revealed and Tom Cruise is yelling dramatically, Crowe decided to crank the music up full-blast and inundate the audience with an incongruous pop song. So complete and immense was the destruction of the mood that I have to deduct a full star from the film for sheer immaturity and annoyance. It brought back painful flashbacks from watching teensploitation movies. Frankly, I could not believe that no one else had noticed the problem, and I fervently wish for an option to remove it on the DVD.

The next most severe complaint is the ending. Up until the last 10 minutes, the film runs smoothly and strongly. Then the end shows up and the movie becomes a didactic Disney film. I expected a more ambiguous, intelligent ending, but I guess I asked too much of Mr. Crowe.

My last complaint is only worth noting. Whatís with the bad CG? For a movie starring Tom Cruise, youíd think that they would have the money to make the sky look real. Perhaps itís intentional, in order to make the scenes more surreal. If it is, I disagree with the choice.

All in all, itís the most mature Crowe film to date, but Almost Famous was better. Itís a step in the right direction, and I encourage Mr. Crowe to try again. Iím eager to see where he goes from here. He could be one of the teens who need time to blossom before becoming a full-fledged adult of society. This movie just means heís not a one of those brainy teens who strides ahead of the pack, like Wes Anderson.

óZack Schenkkan

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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