What is it about Alejandro Amenábar’s 1997 psychological thriller, Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), that would prompt writer-director Cameron Crowe and producer-star Tom Cruise to remake it? Looking at Vanilla Sky, it’s clear that Amenábar’s stylish, pretentious tale (about a narcissist who loses everything only to find his soul) allows the Jerry Maguire collaborators another opportunity to explore the American triumvirate of desire: beauty, celebrity and wealth. Yet what they’ve created here is the ultimate vanity project.
Cruise should ideally embody David Aames, a careless and charismatic Peter Pan who has inherited his father’s publishing empire and fancies himself the crown prince of Manhattan’s media elite. But there’s something essential missing. This movie star is best playing strivers, men put to the ultimate test and willing themselves to succeed. But Cruise’s Aames is a curiously empty shell, a character so devoid of emotional veracity that he comes to represent the limitations of charm.
While Aames is careless, vain and shallow, he’s utterly irresistible to women like actress Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz), his semiregular lover but nowhere near the woman he loves. That woman turns out to be dancer Sofia Serrano (Penélope Cruz), the last guileless woman in New York, whom he meets when she arrives at his lavish birthday party on the arm of his best friend, writer Brian Shelby (Jason Lee).
On that fateful night, an obviously smitten Aames escorts Sofia home and they talk and flirt until morning. When he leaves, there’s Julie waiting for him (she’d pointedly not been invited to the party, but came anyway). David gets into her car (mint vintage Detroit horsepower) and Julie drives them both off a bridge, killing herself and horribly disfiguring her beloved’s once-beautiful face. Crowe then follows Cruise on a bizarre, labyrinthine journey of self-discovery.
Part romantic fantasy, part noirish detective story (featuring Kurt Russell’s compassionate prison shrink), Vanilla Sky ultimately devolves into a particularly sappy slice of spiritual science fiction whose corny twist ending (like that of Amenábar’s The Others) isn’t nearly as profound as the filmmaker imagines. Disappointing, too, is the dialogue: Smart wordsmith Crowe repeats good lines until all their charm has been utterly drained away.
With Vanilla Sky, Crowe wants to make a case for embracing the harsh vicissitudes of reality over the familiar comforts of illusion. He just forgets to rub the glitter out of his eyes first.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.