The number one film at the box-office this weekend was Tom Cruise’s Oblivion, which racked up $38 million and represents yet another comeback for the up-and-down career of Tom Cruise. It’s Cruise’s fifth best opening overall, and the best opening for a non-sequel that he’s had since War of the Worlds in 2005. Like Dan, I enjoyed Oblivion despite the fact that it was rooted in familiar genre tropes.
My complaint with Oblivion, like with most Tom Cruise films, is his extraordinary lack of chemistry with his romantic leads. In fact, I’ve began to notice something of a pattern in the way that Cruise selects his projects: Even when there is a romantic couple, it always plays second to the main plotline. Moreover, Cruise has a tendency — Cameron Diaz, aside — to select romantic counterparts who appeal to a certain demo rather than based on their onscreen chemistry. Cruise is still a bigger star internationally, which would explain the list of European ladies who he cast opposite him: Rosamund Pike, Penelope Cruz, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Emmanuelle Beart, and Samantha Morton. His leading ladies seem more like Vice Presidential nominees, selected to win over a state, than people with whom he connects chemically.
That may be because Cruise has realized that he’s incapable of onscreen chemistry with any woman. That’s not a statement on his sexuality (although, you may infer that); it’s more, as Grantland noted in their review, that “it’s hard not to love a man who loves us as much as Cruise does. He just has no chemistry with anyone else.” Cruise’s romantic interests are subjugated, so as not to take the focus away from him. Tom Cruise stars in Tom Cruise movies, not Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie or Julia Roberts or Kate Hudson movies. Formidable A-listers have a diminishing effect the Cruiseness of his films.
That’s not necessarily a terrible thing; the last thing we need is another generic romantic comedy, and Cruise is one of the few A-listers who still tries to movies that aren’t based on already hugely popular properties (the Mission Impossible movies and The Color of Money are the only sequels that Cruise has made in his 30 year career). Nevertheless, Cruise makes for a dreadful romantic lead, including one of his best movies, Jerry Maguire, a romantic comedy where all of the chemistry was between Cruise and Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Cruise and the kid, Jonathan Lipnicki.
In fact, here’s a quick look back at Tom Cruise’s worst romantic onscreen pairings. Also note the weird face-touching thing. What is up with that?
10. Michelle Monaghan, Mission Impossible III — From Average Man’s Reviews: “Action is the name of the game in this one. That is a good thing because there is absolutly no chemistry between Cruise and Monaghan. There is one especially excruciting rooftop scene that will leave you groaning and praying for something, anything, to blow up.”
9. Renee Zellwegger, Jerry Maguire — From The Movie Freak: “There is little chemistry that makes an onscreen relationship between actors such as Zellweger and Cruise believable. Furthermore, their characters seem to hardly love each other. I’d estimate that the two of them broke up and got back together at least four times throughout the film.”
8. Rosamund Pike, Jack Reacher — From the NYTimes: Pike is especially bland, making Helen a weak figure who has no chemistry with Reacher’s mysterious loner. “
7. Olga Kurylenko, Oblivion — From USA Today: “While Cruise’s character is given two romantic interests, the actor doesn’t connect with either.”
6. Jeanne Tripplehorn, The Firm — As FilmsOnDisc wrote, “The romantic chemistry between Cruise and Jeanne Tripplehorn who plays Abby doesn’t have the spark to ignite a pile of movie twigs.”
5. Kelly McGillis, Top Gun — From The Faculty Lounge: “The lack of chemistry between Cruise and Mcgillis makes it seem like the love scenes are mother to son incestuous.”
4. Penelope Cruz/Cameron Diaz, Vanilla Sky — From Emmanuel Levy: “One of Vanilla Sky’s biggest problems is Cruise’s lack of chemistry with either of his glamorous co-stars: Diaz and Cruz.”
3. Nicole Kidman, Far and Away — From Martin Teller: “We care only because Tom and Nicole are a cute couple with winning smiles, but the lack of chemistry (surprising or unsurprising, depending on your viewpoint) leaves little reason to care. The film’s sluggish middle act spends so much time pussy-footing around their “romance” (as Cruise sublimates his sexual desire with fisticuffs) that I’m not sure which is more implausible: their getting together, or their not getting together.”
2. Cameron Diaz, Knight and Day — From The Measured Circle: “the movie is sunk by the complete lack of chemistry between the stars. I was fairly convinced quite often that they had shot their two parts separately using green screen, and were later put together digitally.”
1. Nicole Kidman, Eyes Wide Shut — From the NYTimes (and EVERYONE): “The sexual chemistry between its married stars, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, is tepid at best.”