Disfigurement isn’t the first subject to leap to mind as the hook for a Tom Cruise movie. Whatever goes wrong in Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky, though (and not a lot goes right), the film does at least have the courage to ask the question, What are you left with when you take away Tom Cruise’s face? The answer, I’m afraid, is, Not very much. Cruise has always been at his worst when he has to express the inner anguish of his being. In Vanilla Sky, the cataclysmic car crash that leaves his smug-grinned yuppie peacock (this time, he’s a Maxim-style magazine publisher) scarred and embittered is meant to be a cosmic comeuppance for his life of selfish hedonism. But the sight of Cruise looking like Jerry Maguire playing the Phantom of the Opera is creepy in all the wrong ways. Instead of provoking sympathy, the ugly-duckling nightmare only heightens our awareness of Cruise’s vanity.
Not to worry, though—it’s all just a dream! Or maybe not. It’s my job to parse the inconsistencies of even the most confusing movies, but halfway through Vanilla Sky, there wasn’t much I could do but throw up my hands. Are Cameron Diaz, as Cruise’s threateningly unstable casual-sex buddy, and Penélope Cruz, as the saintly photographer who tries to Show Him Love, supposed to be the same person? The way that the film has been edited, none of the fake-outs and reversals have any weight; the more that they pile up, the less we hold on to any of them. We’re left with a cracked hall of mirrors taped together by a What is reality? cryogenics plot and scored to Cameron Crowe’s record collection. The movie does feature a few arresting visual tricks. Crowe’s eyes are open, all right, but he appears to have directed most of Vanilla Sky with his mind wide shut. D+