In the summer of 2008, Tom Cruise fell out of the big action thriller "Salt," a move that roughly followed him falling out of the big action thriller "28th Amendment" (and that was then followed by his big action thriller "The Matarese Circle" getting backburnered).
At the time it looked like the world's most famous working actor might take a break from the motorcycle-flipping and warehouse-exploding; he was, after all, shooting at about the same time the more prestige-minded (er, attempted prestige-minded?) "Lions for Lambs" and "Valkyrie," and was trying to build an entire boutique label in United Artists to boot.
But the news today, first reported by Deadline Hollywood, that Cruise will next shoot "Mission: Impossible IV" shows that you can take the actor out of the action, but not the action out of the actor. Cruise has migrated from the world of big franchises before. But somehow he always finds his way back.
With each "M:I" film there has been a marked, almost pointed, detour away from those star-showcasing, man-saving-the-world-from-catastrophe crowd pleasers. Hollywood stars routinely alternate between smaller movies and bigger action films. But something different has gone on here. George Clooney, Brad Pitt and other top stars practice (as much as a franchise-hungry studio system allows) a one-for-us/one-for-them approach. The arc of Cruise's career has had a far more scattershot quality -- a burst of action films, followed by a substantial hiatus (and, judging by his falling out of the action films, a reluctance to star in them in the first place) -- followed by the inevitable return to his action sanctuary.
After the first installment of the Ethan Hunt chronicles nearly 15 years ago, Cruise appeared in three consecutive passion projects ("Jerry Maguire," "Eyes Wide Shut" and "Magnolia") before starring in the second "M:I" film. Then the cycle repeated itself. After the second "M:I" film, he took an art-house plunge with a Cameron Crowe remake of a quirky Spanish film ("Vanilla Sky") and a Michael Mann mid-budget character piece ("Collateral") -- before going hard back to the action with "War of the Worlds" and the next "M:I" flick. ("Minority Report" was in there too, however you want to categorize that one).
And now, four years later, here we are again -- a man who veers off to be an actor but -- to the detriment of the acting world but the enrichment of studio coffers -- always comes back to being a movie star.
Of course, equally important as the question of how Cruise wants to show himself to audiences is how audiences want to see him (and whether they still will when this next "M:I" picture hits in May 2011). The world views movie stars, and Cruise in particular, a lot differently than they did in 1996, when the first "M:I" movie came out; there's little of the celebrity reverence that once drove people to see and love star-driven movies.
Then again, even in this TMZ-ized world, the worst of that Cruise backlash is over. The actor is not that polarizing a figure anymore, and certainly not the object of the tabloid and late-night target practice. Which means that as Cruise comes back, as he inevitably does, to his crowd pleasers, the crowds could inevitably come back to him. And the cycle continues...
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Tom Cruise. Credit: Paul Buck/EPA