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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Tom Cruise

The light and dark of Tom Cruise's 'Knight & Day'

June 18, 2010 |  8:07 pm

One of the most curious experiments of the summer is Tom Cruise's "Knight & Day." James Mangold's film about a rogue CIA agent (Cruise) and his vigilante globetrotting experiences with a pretty innocent (Cameron Diaz) is in many ways a bold release, not only because it doesn't have that pre-sold thing so many Hollywood films go with these days (it was a creation of Mangold and a host of big-name Hollywood writers; more on Mangold and that process shortly) but because it's such an unusual mix of genres, moving from action thriller to romance to screwball comedy to missing-son drama.

My colleagues Claudia Eller and Ben Fritz have broken down  the film's challenges and prospects, looking at the tracking, which has been soft, and Fox's response to it, which has been to sneak the film this weekend before Wednesday's release to try to get word-of-mouth to stand in for the built-in expectations that, say, a superhero or formula romantic comedy brings.

Mangold’s film, while potentially satisfying for filmgoers in an environment of one-note summer entertainments, is the kind of movie that creates a challenge for marketing executives. To emphasize one element is to risk alienating people who’d be drawn to the other, and Fox, like any studio releasing a film like this, finds itself caught between going hard after one constituency and trying to offer something for everyone. (A series of television spots – Fox has bought large chunks of airtime over the last several weeks – has alternated between comedy and action emphases.)

 And that's to say nothing of Tom Cruise's box-office stock and where it sits in this post-Valkyrie (but pre-"MI: IV") world. Summer isn't usually the time for drama on the big screen, but it's shaping up to be a  dramatic time for some of the people behind it.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in '"Knight & Day." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Is a Les Grossman movie a good idea?

June 9, 2010 |  7:20 pm

So all those relentless Les Grossman promotions for the MTV Movie Awards finally made (a little more) sense today, as Paramount announced that it was developing a movie with Tom Cruise based on the Grossman character, who of course first appeared two years ago in "Tropic Thunder" and returned at the awards show on Sunday.

There are seemingly a dozen reasons why this wouldn't seem to be a good idea, starting with the fact that the character is based on a single joke that, no matter its satiric value, doesn't seem capable of carrying an entire feature.

Characters based on sketches, no matter how viral or beloved, also tend to make wobbly and unsuccessful features ("MacGruber" studio Universal may be able to share a little wisdom about that). Movies that spin off minor characters from hit comedies aren't faring much better these days (again, Universal can share some insight after the middling performance of "Get Him to the Greek").

And comedies about studio executives, while perhaps an appealing idea to the people who decide whether to make movies -- Paramount president Adam Goodman had fun with it, offering an "Everything I learned in this business, I've learned from Les" statement -- rarely appeal to those who watch it. (Here the producers of "What Just Happened" may have something to add).

Still, you have to at least admire the canny synergy of it all -- trot out a few promos for a cable awards show and, once it goes viral, develop a movie around it. And all of it based on a nearly forgotten scene-stealing cameo. Somewhere, Bronson Pinchot is calling his agent.

There's a faint hope that if it's not just 90 minutes of over-the-top Hollywood caricature -- and say, more of a fleshed-out satire a la "Entourage," with the real entertainment business blurring with the fictitious one -- it may, just may, have some bite. The Grossman movie is also a chance to see Tom Cruise try comedy, something he does with impressive aplomb in the upcoming "Knight & Day." And if nothing else, a Grossman movie will cut a wicked trailer.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Tom Cruise as Les Grossman. Credit: MTV Movie Awards

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Preview review: Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in 'Knight and Day'

March 31, 2010 |  4:56 pm

Cruise When we first watched the trailer for "Knight and Day," we wondered whether Tom Cruise was really acting, or instead just revisiting the loopy persona he's established over the last couple of years.

In the new film, out in June, Cruise plays Milner, a government agent who takes June (Cameron Diaz) out on a blind date. Soon, June discovers that Milner may have been hiding his true identity and she is pulled into his dangerous globe-trotting adventures. Meanwhile, a federal agent (Peter Sarsgaard) is trying to convince June that Milner is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and has recently suffered "a full-blown break from reality."

But Cruise's character here seems eerily similar to a certain persona he's employed in the past. At one point, right as Milner abducts June, he assertively tells the man sharing a dinner table with her, "Please, for your own safety, please stay in the booth." It's just the type of condescending tone of voice Cruise had during his now-infamous interview with the "Today" show's Matt Lauer, in which he told the host, "Here's the problem. You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do."

In fact, much of the trailer seems recycled. Diaz, as usual, is all too breathy and giggly and ditsy and wide-eyed to be taken seriously. Really, how many times now has she taken on the dumb-blond-who-becomes-savvy role?

Then there are the cliched action scenes we've seen a million times: the car chases that result in gun wielding, the death-defying escapes through curvy streets, the formerly innocent woman who quickly learns how to handle hardware like a pro. Plus, there's a fugitive odd couple who will defy the odds and probably end up together, a la "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," or "The Bourne Identity."

Interestingly enough, Cruise seems to be the best part of the film. Maybe that's because he does the crazy maniac so well. Will "Knight and Day" offer something new to audiences, or is this just more of the same tried-and-true action film formula? Vote with your fingers.

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz star in "Knight and Day." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Could Tom Cruise and Reese Witherspoon be shining their cowboy boots?

March 24, 2010 | 12:56 pm

Exclusive:  Could Tom Cruise and Reese Witherspoon be saddling up for a ride together?

Word in the development community has the A-listers eying the lead roles in "Paper Wings," a love story set in the world of rodeo that's being developed at Sony. Cruise would take the role of a rodeo champ who falls for an up-and-coming country singer, played by Witherspoon.


The actress has taken several rides into country-and-western territory, of course, with her Oscar-winning turn as June Carter Cash in "Walk the Line" and, most recently, signing on for Sony's "The Pioneer Woman," the story of a woman who falls in love with a cowboy while on a cross-country road trip and winds up living on an Oklahoma ranch. Cruise, as far as we know, has never played a cowboy.

The project has been around for some time -- it was set up at New Line before it came to Sony -- but the Cruise and Witherspoon interest could turn it into an arm jerker (yes, we had to look that one up).

Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment is producing the project, which has led producers to talk to Gabriele Muccino  about directing; the Italian film maker and Smith favorite also directed Overbrook's underrated drama "Seven Pounds" and Oscar nominee "The Pursuit of Happyness." Several other directors are also in the mix.

Rodeo-set stories haven't exactly been hugely popular in Hollywood -- one of the most well-known is 1994's "8 Seconds," which starred Luke Perry and Stephen Baldwin, which tells you something. But with "Crazy Heart's" breakout success, unlikely love stories set in the country-and-western world now seem to be in vogue. Or are, um, chasing the cans.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Tom Cruise. Credit: Alberto Rodriguez / Getty Images

Why can't Tom Cruise escape himself?

February 9, 2010 |  6:47 pm

Tom Cruise

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


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