A Tale of Two Couch Jumpings
Date of Assessment: June 25, 2010
Positive Buzzwords: Movie star, charisma, work ethic
Negative Buzzwords: Couch-jumping, egomaniac, nutjob
The Case: Obviously, this assessment can't possibly cover the duration of Tom Cruise's movie-star career in any adequate measure, but let's kick things off in term of the two predominant phases -- heartthrob and overzealous freak -- in Tom Cruise's career. Both of these phrases, strangely enough, were catalyzed by couch-jumping sessions. As the young, strapping lad of Risky Business, Cruise danced in his undies, spazzed out on a couch, and captured the affections of young girls everywhere. Over two decades years later, Cruise visited Oprah Winfrey's couch, whereupon he proceeded to lose his shit while declaring overwhelming love for one Katie Holmes. What followed was, as far as screen idols are concerned, an unprecedented free fall during the War of the Worlds promotional tour, which culminated infamously upon the "Today Show," where Cruise appeared -- unshaven, wild-eyed, and looking as if he'd not slept in weeks -- and confronted host Matt Lauer with much hostility and a series of bizarre statements, including "You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do." What the hell?
Shortly thereafter, Cruise ended his fourteen year production-based relationship with Paramount Studios (the spin ran amuck on the "quit or fired" issue) and then forged a complicated resurrection of United Artists, which was nearly pushed back into the grave by the flop that was Lions for Lambs. UA then pumped its remaining resources into Valkyrie, which did okay for a $75 million budget (and probably another $75 million in publicity) as well as several release setbacks. In the end, the movie probably recouped all of these staggering costs and, at least temporarily, rescued UA from swift euthanization. In the process, however, Cruise lost his UA co-founder, Paula Wagner, also his long-term agent and ally. Currently, while UA puts forth the "business as usual" front, it deserves mention that Knight and Day, the intended career-saving vehicle for Cruise, was made on Fox's dime (not UA's), which tells us that even the biggest movie star in the world can make an awful producer and must now find financing elsewhere.
Of course, most of Tom Cruise's box-office success resides between those two aforementioned couch-jumps. This was a blissfully long period that kept Cruise's public persona shrouded under enigmatic wraps. Cruise went to work, played his roles, and flashed the million-watt smile at premieres. Other than what occurred onscreen, Cruise was often seen but seldom heard, and it was a winning formula that sent him coasting through flashy roles in All the Right Moves, Legend, Top Gun, Cocktail, and Days of Thunder. More substantial turns followed with The Color of Money, Rain Man, Born on the Fourth of July, and A Few Good Men. Cruise's undeniable charisma allowed him to combine blockbuster-level success -- Minority Report, The Last Samurai, and the Mission: Impossible franchise -- with very respectable returns in extremely offbeat roles in Magnolia and Collateral. On even different levels, Cruise proved Anne Rice's doubts wrong with his turn as Lestat in Interview With the Vampire. In short, he could do (almost) anything, even sappy romcoms like Jerry Maguire (which I actually loved) and creepy, overrated crap like Eyes Wide Shut and Vanilla Sky. Could anything stop the Cruise?
In hindsight, that seems like a rather silly question because, during the post-production phases of War of the Worlds, something snapped inside of Cruise. Call it a midlife crisis or OT Level VII or, perhaps, just an inexperienced publicist (his sister) who couldn't rein in the crazy, but Cruise suddenly became an undeniably different public creature than the movie star with which audiences had grown accustomed. It was nearly as if the couch-jumping was a light switch, for the second jump nearly negated the power of the first jump in terms of public appeal. Naturally, here's a good possibility that Cruise has always been a bit "off," and one can catch a glimpse of crazy dating all the way back to The Outsiders, but it was a controlled sort of crazy. Unfortunately, the crazy chose to suddenly burst all over Oprah's couch. These days, it's been reduced to a just-simmering-under-the-surface sort of crazy, and the situation remains much too volatile for any accurate predictions. Admittedly, I do agree with our somewhat fearless leader's declaration of the "brilliant, career-changing cameo in Tropic Thunder," but I'd disagree over the nature of the change that shall occur if the Les Grossman movie ever gets made. Does anyone really want to watch two hours of this?
Then again, anyone who's familiar with my writings over the last several years will know that I've got strong opinions about Tom Cruise. At first, I went into this assessment with a very serious intention to avoid the Scientology issue. However, it would be fairly hypocritical for me to pretend not to have performed extensive research and written at length on the so-called "religion." And I do have something to say to the folks who counter criticism of Scientology with something such as, "Don't you realize that all major religions have perpetrated heinous misdeeds? Why can't you call out the Mormons, for crying out loud?" Such a logical fallacy, which usually comes from otherwise intelligent people, will never persuade anyone who's done the barest amount of research on Scientology. Just go and read up on exactly where Cruise funnels his money (that is, when he's not building massive underground bunkers in Telluride, Colorado). If you look in the right places, it should take a maximum of fifteen minutes before you realize that this "religion" receives well-earned criticism. And I do realize that this is an assessment of Cruise's "career," but he's certainly used his movie star status to promote his personal agenda and engage in mass proselytization, which has inarguably affected the public's perception of Tom Cruise as a movie star. These days, he's much more of a punchline who's still got the skills but a limited number of opportunities to work those skills. It's not as if Cruise will settle into some small indie flicks to reestablish himself as trustworthy screen presence. Instead, his approach will be a couple of big-budget strikes, and he'll either sink or swim with no room for any sort of middle ground.
Prognosis: It's no secret that Cruise has been aiming to rebuild his career after a few years of unpredictable (and underwhelming) box-office grosses. A lot rests upon the success or failure of this weekend's Knight and Day, which -- from the looks of the trailer -- is a completely brilliant approach for Cruise to formally reclaim box office glory. On paper, this movie carries an action-hero vibe and hefty amounts of self-depreciation on the part of Cruise, whose character faces allegations of a recent "psychotic break," which is not only a clever manner of poking fun at Cruise's own tabloid persona but also -- and this just can't be ignored -- a key Scientology term (see also "introspection rundown") and his own little inside joke. As with Cameron Diaz, the career of Tom Cruise will likely see a boost from Knight and Day, but what happens afterwards will probably be much more compelling than any movie itself.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.
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