Eric D. Snider

Vanilla Sky

Cameron Crowe wrote and directed "Say Anything," "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous," which earns him a lot of leeway. (That's the rule: You write and direct three great movies, you can do whatever you want after that.)

He'll need that leeway with "Vanilla Sky," an interesting but ultimately inconsequential psychological drama that reunites him with his "Jerry Maguire" star, Tom Cruise.

It's a remake of the 1997 Spanish film "Abre Los Ojos" ("Open Your Eyes"), which was directed by Alejandro Amenabar, who recently directed "The Others," which starred Cruise's ex-wife Nicole Kidman. See how Hollywood is one eternal round?

Anyway, "Vanilla Sky" tells the story of a rich, arrogant New Yorker named David Aames (Cruise), the spoiled heir to a publishing company who takes nothing seriously. You can tell this is so because he plays racquetball with his buddy (Jason Lee) instead of going to a board meeting. He has a non-committal sexual relationship with his pal Julie (Cameron Diaz), who unfortunately perceives it as very committal indeed.

One night at a party, David meets Sophia (Penelope Cruz, who also starred in "Abre Los Ojos") and believes he may be falling in love. She is optimistic and pure and wonderful -- the real deal.

Then Julie commits suicide by driving her car off a bridge, and she does it while David is a passenger. His face is horribly disfigured, and he seeks out Sophia to try to reconnect to the one true thing he ever had in his life.

That's where the movie opens its bag of shenanigans, leading to the much-hyped "unforgettable ending," which is not nearly as jaw-dropping or surprising as the TV commercials would have you believe. I don't want to spoil the film, so I'll just say that David comes to be accused of murder, and someone may be messing with his mind.

Cruise has come to be a reliable actor, but he rarely goes beyond that. His performance here is adequate, but he arouses little sympathy for his character. Even when David has become scarred and grotesque (kudos to the makeup folks, by the way), the audience cares little for him. He's not unlikable so much as he is pesky.

Diaz doesn't have much to do before she gets killed, but she does it prettily. Cruz's nearly indecipherable accent, which was funny in "Captain Corelli's Mandolin," reaches an unintentional comic zenith here. I don't know what she's saying, and I don't believe she means it anyway. Can we rid ourselves of the notion that she's a good actress? She's not.

Crowe's directorial style shows surprising warmth and honesty -- the hallmarks of his films -- until the end, when it turns cold. "Vanilla Sky" is ethereal, but it's really just a lot of whacked-out psychological mumbo-jumbo, reminiscent of "A.I." and "The Matrix," and not in a good way. It is fairly interesting to watch once, but I can't imagine sitting through it again.

Grade: C+

Rated R, abundant harsh profanity, some brief but very graphic sexual dialogue, some strong sexuality, a scene of female nudity, some violence

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