In the modish 1997 thriller Open YourEyes, Spanish heartthrob Eduardo Noriega played a troubled narcissist trapped in a serial nightmare, possibly of his own creation. In Cameron Crowe's remake, Tom Cruise plays a troubled narcissist trapped in several pounds of injury makeup, as well as in Crowe's dither over whether to keep faith with the original or make it over as Jerry Maguire with a bit of Spanish lace. Shot for shot and word for word, much of Vanilla Sky is a copy slavish enough to make you wonder why the militantly uncynical Crowe even bothered—beyond Paramount's hope that without subtitles, the respectable box office racked up by Open Your Eyeswould soar into the millions.
Though overstuffed and burdened with a surfeit of style over substance, Open Your Eyes—which was directed by Alejandro Amenábar, who also made the recent hit The Others—is powered by two expertly interlocked stories that, taken together, probe the limits of paranoia and desire in a corporate culture. In one, a young man in a face mask sits in a prison cell, reluctantly revealing to a psychiatrist the dreams or experiences that may have brought him to commit a murder. Tortured by gnawing uncertainty about whether a corporate someone was out to get him or whether he was dreaming his own terrors and desires, the guy's a wreck. Crowe is diligently, dully mimetic in his fidelity to Amenábar's dark vision, but it's clear that his heart lies with the love story that emerges from the young man's narrative.
If anyone is being rehashed here, it's Cameron Crowe. David Aames, charismatic heir to a Manhattan publishing fortune who's as careless with his board duties as he is with the women he beds in droves, invites comparison with Cruise's sports agent in Jerry Maguire, who needed the love of a good woman to spring him from his frantically empty life. Only this time, Cruise, wearing a tremulous smirk that seems to apologize for having to sully his nice-guy reputation by playing a jerk, displays the same languid lack of conviction he showed in Eyes Wide Shut—possibly because once again, he's playing opposite his offscreen better half, here Penélope Cruz.
Doubtless much of Vanilla Sky's audience will be avidly watching to see whether Hollywood's latest hot couple can work up a frothier head of steam than Cruise and Kidman did in Eyes Wide Shut. They're going to be disappointed. As Sofia, the unpolished, down-to-earth woman David falls in love with the moment he sets eyes on her, Cruz is reprising the role she played in Open Your Eyes, which in the end was carried by the intense young actress' symbiosis with Noriega. Cruz is an almost implausibly voluptuous woman whose sultry lips and penetrating dark eyes were made for operatic melodrama, not the giddy romance Crowe seems to have in mind. Under his direction, she's doing Breakfast at Tiffany's, as did Renée Zellweger in Jerry Maguire. But here, the flighty, kittenish charm that so became Zellweger absurdly diminishes Cruz, to the point that she's fatally sidelined by Cameron Diaz, who plays Julie, the sometime date—ruthless, lonely and dangerously gifted in the sack—who takes David a good deal more seriously than he does her.
As Sofia's opposite and the mirror of David's ugliest fears about himself, Julie is easily the most compelling figure in the movie—the embodiment of all the desperate, enraged rich brats spawned by three decades of wealth unmoored from decency. Crowe, for his part, is decency itself, but unlike Amenábar, he's a pop romantic with no stomach or aptitude for noir: David's dreams take their shape from Bob Dylan, Harper Lee and Jules et Jim, and we can be sure that the sources of his unhappiness will be explained, that he will learn things and move toward a better life. That's reassuring—but reassurance comes cheap.
Vanilla Sky was written and directed by Cameron Crowe, based on the film Open Your Eyes by Alejandro Amenábar; produced by Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner and Crowe; and stars Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Penélope Cruz. Now playing countywide.