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ADD 'VANILLA SKY' TO LONG LIST OF REMAKE MISFIRES.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

If ``Vanilla Sky'' is an unusually faithful translation of the Spanish art movie ``Open Your Eyes,'' then why does it seem like the kind of misfire only Hollywood can produce?

The reason, in a word, is narcissism, most obviously on the part of star Tom Cruise but, probably to a more damaging extent, where adapter-director Cameron Crowe was concerned.

When Cruise isn't preening for the camera or wallowing in what is actually quite photogenic deformity makeup or literally wearing an attention-getting blank mask that looks like it was borrowed from the latest Diesel Jeans ad campaign, Crowe is trying to turn this surreal, sci-fi/sex romp/psychological thriller into something personal.

The kid Rolling Stone reporter-turned-pretty good, character-based filmmaker (``Almost Famous,'' Cruise career-best ``Jerry Maguire''), Crowe is probably the kind of director who should only do his own, original material. ``Vanilla Sky'' boasts numerous touches that would fit right into a Crowe-generated piece, such as rock 'n' roll references that have no business here, desperate efforts to define some kind of modern ethics and a general attempt to be sweet and likable in what is, unavoidably, an extremely dark and depressing tale.

The basic problem is that any story with as much genre baggage as this one has - not to mention a fractured narrative that keeps audiences annoyingly confused as to whether they're watching a dream sequence, a delusion or part of the movie's reality in any given scene - simply has no room for Crowe's finer authorial touches.

Well, that's a problem, and Tom Cruise likes himself too much.

He's superplayboy David Aames, sole heir to a New York publishing empire that his father poured his life into but that David treats, like everything and everyone else he knows, as a plaything. He's basically a nice guy, but spoiled and selfish, and certainly not about to commit any aspect of his blessed existence to anybody.

This does not sit well with pal Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz), with whom David has what he thinks is a casual, sometimes sexual friendship. He ditches Julie at his own birthday party for intriguing Spanish import Sofia Serrano (Penelope Cruz, in her same ``Open Your Eyes'' role, but not quite as captivating since she's trying to do it in English). To, unlike Crowe, make a long story short, a jealous Julie ends up driving herself and David off a bridge.

She dies and his face is horribly disfigured. Sofia becomes sympathetic but standoffish. Then, she's not so ... and thanks to the best reconstructive surgery money can buy, he's not so ... but then David is in jail, wearing the mask and getting probed by a psychologist (Kurt Russell) ... and Julie suddenly, alarmingly re-materializes ... and these weird British people (Noah Taylor and Tilda Swinton) abruptly appear and tell David all these weird, cryptic things ... and ...

If you don't get the picture now, the movie isn't going to be much more help. As the original film's title - which are the first words we hear in this one, appropriately enough in Spanish - indicated, ``Vanilla Sky'' is very much about dreams. Unfortunately for this Hollywoodized take on the subject, it's coming out at the end of a year in which truly persuasive dream logic (and the unreliable, fogged memories that go with it) has been the key achievement of the best movies out there, truly independent and intuitive works such as ``Mulholland Drive,'' ``Memento,'' ``Waking Life'' and ``Audition.''

The psychology at work in ``Vanilla Sky'' just isn't complete enough to match up with the film's often striking, sometimes effectively disturbing visualizations. And the explanation of all this nuttiness is unsatisfying in any number of ways, not the least being that it feels like the cheapest of cop-out endings to a film that, in braver (or, at least, better understanding) hands, would have let the real dysfunctions in handsome David's not-so-beautiful mind dictate the outcome.

``VANILLA SKY''

(Rated R: violence, sex, nudity, language)

The stars: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, Timothy Spall, Tilda Swinton.

Behind the scenes: Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, based on the film ``Open Your Eyes,'' written by Alejandro Amenabar and Mateo Gil. Produced by Paula Wagner, Cruise and Crowe. Released by Paramount Pictures.

Running time: Two hours, 14 minutes.

Playing: Citywide.

Our rating: Two and one half stars.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Real-life lovers Penelope Cruz and Tom Cruise share an intimate moment in the film ``Vanilla Sky.''
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Title Annotation:Review; L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Dec 14, 2001
Words:744
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