Before "Collateral" he hadnâ€™t challenged himself as an actor since 1999, when he played a ponytailed self-help guru who does television infomercials in the daring Paul Thomas Anderson ensemble film "Magnolia." It was a role that may have cut too close, revealing how illusory a celebrityâ€™s public image is. These days he is like a charlatan who canâ€™t manage to dupe anybody. He seems desperate to maintain his stature as one of the worldâ€™s biggest movie stars, even as he morphs into something no movie star can afford to be: a guy you wouldnâ€™t want to know.
Ah, Caryn â€” you and your semi-insights. Personally, we still think Tom Cruise is a decent movie star, but then he’s pretty much defined our understanding of what a contemporary movie star is, which would be beautiful, wealthy, famous, and possessed of an utterly incomprehensible personal life. Over at the London Times, Ian Johns wonders if we’re at the end of the age of star power:
Itâ€™s often this â€œback-end dealâ€, by which top talent â€œownsâ€ a percentage of a filmâ€™s profits, that is making Hollywood studios skittish. â€œIn the Seventies it was cheaper to pay the stars out of the back end than to pay their salaries,â€ observed Bill Mechanic, a producer and former Twentieth Century Fox studio head, in the Los Angeles Times. â€œBut then the budgets and salaries went back up, but the back end stayed. And not just for guys who had 20 years in the business, but for guys like Jim Carrey, who was a hot comedian with hardly any film experience.â€
Believe It or Not!, a Carrey project with an estimated $150 million budget, was shut down recently by Paramount executives who didnâ€™t want to pay production costs while script changes were made. Fox also pulled the plug on Used Guys, a comedy starring Carrey and Ben Stiller. It is a good example of how a $100 million-plus film can fall apart nowadays.
John Horn and Rachel Abramowitz at the LA Times see the Cruise cast-off as a symptom of a current phase of industry frankness and belt-tightening:
Under the industry’s standard operating procedures, studios terminate deals over "creative differences" and issue news releases effusively praising all parties. But in a Wall Street Journal interview, [Viacom chairman Sumner] Redstone not only didn’t bother with such niceties, but he also went after Cruise for his off-screen behavior.
He seemed particularly upset that Cruise’s couch-jumping, finger-pointing pronouncements on love, psychiatry and Ritalin had damaged his box-office appeal, and hence Paramount Pictures Inc.’s profit.
But Hollywood is full of steadily employed actors and moguls who have assaulted hotel clerks with cellphones, picked up prostitutes and consumed massive amounts of illegal drugs. The difference is their indiscretions are not considered financially costly.
Though we have no idea if this last supposed truthfulness trend is real, we do hope it is. There’s something magical about the idea of an industry built on making nice turning around and laying it out like it is: "Maybe next week you can lay of the three-gram-a-night coke habit and actually eat something â€” those fainting spells are really dragging this shoot out."