After writing and directing a slew of well-received romances, including "Singles", "Jerry Maguire", and "Almost Famous", Cameron Crowe turns in his first genre film, "Vanilla Sky", a remake of the critically-acclaimed 1997 Spanish film by Alejandro Amenabar ("The Others"), "Open Your Eyes (Abre Los Ojos)". And while the marketing may fool some viewers into thinking that it is just another Tom Cruise movie or pop-savvy Crowe production, it quickly becomes obvious that "Vanilla Sky" defies categorization, as it is a dark and surreal genre-bending amalgam of romance, psychological thriller, murder mystery, and science fiction. And though Crowe may seem out of his element, this remake, like last week's "Ocean's Eleven", actually surpasses the original.
Tom Cruise ("Mission: Impossible II") plays David Aames, whose inheritance of his late father's publishing interests has allowed him to pursue a playboy lifestyle. With a swanky Manhattan apartment, celebrity acquaintances, and a stunning female 'friend' named Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz of "Charlie's Angels") whom he can bed without even a hint of commitment, David is living it large. But one day, at his birthday party, David is instantly smitten when he is introduced to the lovely Sofia (Penelope Cruz, reprising her role from "Open Your Eyes") by his best friend Brian Shelby (Jason Lee of "Almost Famous"). For the first time in his life, David has an inkling of what true love is, and as a result, ends up taking Sofia back to her apartment and spending the night there.
However, the next morning, a jealous Julie catches David leaving Sofia's apartment and asks him to go for a ride. David agrees, but realizes too late that Julie plans to commit suicide-- she hits the gas and she sends the car flying off a bridge. Though Julie is killed instantly, David survives, albeit horribly disfigured. Despite his immense wealth, the best plastic surgeons in the world cannot repair his shattered visage, and David chooses to hide his twisted face behind a mask and retreat into isolation.
To reveal any more of the film's plot would spoil the numerous surprises that await the audience. But rest assured, like the original "Open Your Eyes", "Vanilla Sky" does not unfold the way even the most jaded moviegoer would expect, as David becomes haunted by strange hallucinations that blur the line between reality and illusion. Is everything he is experiencing 'real', or are these strange occurrences part of some bizarre lucid dream?
Crowe, who rewrote the original Amenabar and Mateo Gil Rodriguez script, remains fairly faithful to the original film, while adding a few new layers of his own. In addition to the injection of more humor, the sense of claustrophobic paranoia is heightened with the added conflict between David and the Board of Directors of his company. And like the director's previous films, the story is built on a foundation of rich subtext and deep themes, such as the triumvirate of love, loyalty, and idealism presented in "Jerry Maguire", or the examination of honesty, both to one's self and others, in "Almost Famous". Though "Vanilla Sky" is not as developed thematically as Crowe's previous entries, there is a nice exploration of how the 'little things', that David once took for granted, end up mattering the most, and how 'the sweet is never as sweet without the bitter'. Finally, true to his trademark style, Crowe wallpapers "Vanilla Sky" with classic pop tunes, though not as a mere ploy to sell soundtracks-- the music becomes an integral part of the film, both as a representation of David's changing mental state, as well as being indicative of the facade of a life that he has created for himself.
Headlining the cast is Cruise, who delivers an outstanding performance that rivals the work he did in "Magnolia", credibly handling David's journey from joy, to self-pity and anguish, and ultimately to revelation. He also shares some good chemistry with co-star Cruz, who brings the same vitality and charm from when she first played the role four years ago, while Diaz delivers a memorable turn as the jilted Julie, whose happy-go-lucky demeanor is quickly poisoned by the jealousy she wears on her sleeve. Supporting the cast are Kurt Russell ("3000 Miles to Graceland") as a police psychologist who eventually becomes David's conscience (in more ways than one), Lee as David's melancholy wannabe-writer friend, and if you don't blink, you might catch a glimpse of director Steven Spielberg ("A.I.").
For those who are unfamiliar with "Open Your Eyes", "Vanilla Sky" provides an intriguing intellectual puzzle that defies the viewer's expectations at every turn. Even those moviegoers who are already familiar with the original version will find that Cameron Crowe's remake still offers a few new wrinkles that make it worth the while. With the veteran writer/director's amendments to the original script, brought to life by purposeful direction and a talented cast, "Vanilla Sky" is a mind-bending and genre-crossing exercise that will keep viewers guessing until the very end.