'Sky' Is Limited

In Cameron Crowe's feverish riddle of a film, "Vanilla Sky," Tom Cruise plays David Aames, a spoiled, rich, New York media mogul who hops from woman to woman the way some guys surf TV channels. His interest in sexy Julie (Cameron Diaz) evaporates as soon as he spots his best friend's (Jason Lee) date Sophia (Penelope Cruz), whom he pursues without a thought for the consequences of his actions.

Briefly, the movie appears to be a romantic comic portrait of a self-satisfied jerk. Then suddenly it flashes forward to a prison, where David, his handsome face hidden behind a latex mask, is being grilled by a psychologist (Kurt Russell). It seems his face has been disfigured in a car wreck, when the jealous, suicidal Julie drove both of them off a bridge. It also seems that David is facing murder charges. But who is the victim?

Just when we think we're watching a murder mystery, the movie's reality shifts under our feet again. Are we watching a dream, a nightmare, a madman's delusions? Treading a fine line between horror and hooey, "Vanilla Sky" is part thriller, part love story, part science fiction and entirely different from anything the amiable creator of "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous" has done before.

Unlike David Lynch's mesmerizing, surreal "Mulholland Falls," everything gets explained at the end. You won't see the final, nutty twist coming--that is, unless you've seen Alejandro Amenabar's "Open Your Eyes," the spooky Spanish film that Crowe duplicates with shocking fidelity, down to the casting of Cruz as Sophia. "Vanilla Sky," alas, held no shocks or surprises for me, having recently seen the original. One change he does make is to humanize the Cameron Diaz character, who was a scary femme fatale in Amenabar's version. This is consistent with Crowe's kinder, gentler sensibility, but it's a mistake. Not only does it make her radical act harder to believe, it lessens the tale's terror.

The real mystery here is why a filmmaker as talented and unique as Crowe would want to devote several years of his life to recreating someone else's movie. Wouldn't it have been a lot simpler just to dub it into English?