''Captain Corelli's Mandolin'' and other similar roles don't reflect her true talent, say Jessica Shaw
Penelope Cruz
Credit: Penelope Cruz: Steve Granitz/Retna

Is Penelope Cruz suffering from overhype?

In ”Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” Penélope Cruz glides around a Greek doctor’s office in a loose, lust-after-me housedress. She weeps in sadness for her soldier fiancé (Christian Bale) and longs for her forbidden Italian lover (Nicolas Cage). She throws her hair back, pouts, and generally plays the ”hot girl torn between two guys” with torment, anguish, armpit hair, and so much blandness that I’d rather attend a Tara Reid film festival than sit through that movie again. For that matter, ”Body Shots” is looking better than any American movie Penélope Cruz has been in.

How is it possible that this celebrated actress achieved such stature across the Atlantic (In Vanity Fair, her countryman, Oscar-winning director Pedro Almódovar, compared her to ”Spanish royalty”) and yet has become such box office repellent in this country? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those people who thinks she’s a talentless waif with eyes that consume 85 percent of her face. She clearly proved herself in Spanish movies like ”Belle Epoque,” ”Jamon, Jamon,” and ”All About My Mother,” Almódovar’s Oscar winner in which she had only her face and line delivery to exude talent (that nun’s habit she wore didn’t let her body do too much emoting).

Still, let’s look at the evidence of the past couple of years: ”Woman on Top”? Dreadful. ”All the Pretty Horses”? Mind-numbingly boring. ”Blow”? Blew. ”Corelli”? See paragraph one. And lame movies are one thing. But these all tanked at the box office, despite costars like Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, and Nicolas Cage.

We may be witnessing the latest victim of Julia Ormond Syndrome. Remember her? The It girl with the biggest capital I of the past decade. After receiving good notices as the ”hot girl torn between two guys” (brothers, actually) in ”Legends of the Fall,” the British actress, previously known for TV and stage work in her home country, was cast as the neo-Audrey Hepburn opposite Harrison Ford in the ”Sabrina” remake. Her mug graced the cover of Vanity Fair. She was on the short list for every high-profile project. But then three movies in a row (”First Knight,” ”Sabrina,” ”Smilla’s Sense of Snow”) didn’t do well at the box office — not that it hurt her male costars — and suddenly her lifetime membership to Hollywood’s A-list club was revoked.

Every year seems to give us another victim: Gretchen Mol, Matthew McConaughey…what happened to them? One survivor of overhype from whom Cruz could take a lesson is Gwyneth Paltrow. During the years she was dating Brad Pitt, Paltrow may have been photographed more than the president, but she didn’t capitalize on all the publicity in the expected way. Instead, she took small but interesting roles in ”Hard Eight,” ”Seven,” ”Moonlight and Valentino.” She played unbelievably different characters in wildly different films — as opposed to Cruz, who’s unfortunately got a lock on the ”sexy European chick torn between two men” market. By the time Paltrow was heralded as the It Girl to End all It Girls, as she was when she starred in ”Emma” and ”Shakespeare in Love,” you knew her name meant something.

Cruz needs to cancel some of those magazine photo shoots, and pick her projects wisely. There’s got to be someone she can trust who can tell her which films will help her grow as an actress and which will leave her as a trivia question. That being said, I’m hopeful for Cruz’s career this coming year. Cameron Crowe is known for bringing out the best in actors (witness Kate Hudson in ”Almost Famous”) so I’m looking forward to seeing what Cruz can do in ”Vanilla Sky.” At least we can be sure she’s done it quite well already, in her native language, since the movie’s based on the excellent 1998 Spanish thriller ”Abre Los Ojos” and she’s reprising the same part. Let’s hope it returns Cruz to her acting roots and away from the Ralph Lauren showroom.

What do you think? Is Penélope Cruz talented or not?