Thursday, May 11, 2006


A new poll shows a majority of Americans have a negative opinion of Tom Cruise.

Ordinarily, the mere existence of a poll such as this at a time like this would cheese me off. Why not ask Americans how they feel about black room ops, Halliburton or the latest round of tax breaks for the wealthy? No, ask them how they feel about the crazy movie star instead.

But Cruise's increasingly nutty behavior and dangerously irresponsible public ramblings have made him an authentic, if minor, news story. So the fact that the public has now decided that they don't like him based on his personal behavior is kind of gratifying. My only question is, Why did they like this guy in the first place?

I realize he became a star back in the Reagan era, the smiling, can-do star of Republican wet dreams like Risky Business and Top Gun. But even then he was a bland presence, the type of actor that made you long for the nuanced performances of Tab Hunter or Troy Donahue. He was just another Hollywood pretty boy as far as I could tell, albeit one with a certain whiny, petulant quality.

But even his slightly arrogant mien didn't make him terribly compelling on screen, and his choice of scripts certainly didn't help matters. Looking over his entire filmography, I can only find two films I admire whole-heartedly, Eyes Wide Shut (in which Stanley Kubrick cleverly cast him as a blank slate) and Magnolia (in which he plays a preening, arrogant celebrity). Otherwise, his movie career is pretty much Dumb Entertainment, occasionally watchable (The Firm, A Few Good Men), mostly embarrassing(Cocktail). His attempts at more substantial work, such as Born On The Fourth Of July, mostly falter due to Cruise's performances--he can't act, people.

Hollywood is reacting with mild panic to the fact that Cruise's latest, Mission Impossible III (or, in studio parlance MI:3) has opened to far smaller grosses than expected. Okay, let's analyze this for a second. Despite the fact that there were two previous Mission Impossible films, do you know anybody who actually liked them? They weren't horrible in a Xanadu kind of way, they were just sort of there, the kind of movies where, halfway through, you start thinking about stopping by Target afterwards to price lawn furniture. I've seen both of them, and I couldn't tell you anything about them, except tht the first one has the distiction of being Brian DePalma's least interesting film ever. (And I've seen Mission To Mars.)

Cruise himself seemed to acknowledge this in his buildup to the new one. The first two were all about action, he'd say--I'm paraphrasing--but Mission Impossible III is about the characters. This time we learn who Ethan Hunt is.

Wait. Ethan Hunt--wasn't he married to Uma Thurman? Honestly, did anyone know Cruise's character in these things had a name? Wasn't he just Generic Spy Guy? And why should we pay money to explore Generic Spy Guy's character?

Apparently, the American public felt the same way. After months of sitting through the trailer--car chases, explosions, grinning or pissy Tom--they pretty much decided they'd already seen it before and had had enough. Finally, a popular vote I can agree with.

It's tough being a celebrity. Sooner or later, your time passes. The eighties are over, Tom. Find a new trick or get off the stage.

And for God's sake, keep your mouth shut.