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Dreams, nightmares, and nonsense

Review: 'Vanilla Sky' an airy confusion

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- "Vanilla Sky," the new film by Cameron Crowe, is a kaleidoscope of dreams, nightmares and reality. Starring Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Jason Lee and Kurt Russell, this film is a remake of the Spanish movie "Abre Los Ojos" ("Open Your Eyes," 1997), directed and co-written by Alejandro Amenabar.

This romantic drama-turned-science fiction flick is an abrupt departure in material for both Crowe ("Jerry Maguire," 1996; "Almost Famous," 2000) and Cruise. Whether audiences are going to want to make the same trip is debatable.

Cruise stars as David Aames, a man who has everything. He glides through his manicured life without a trouble in sight. He's the heir to a publishing empire created by his late father. The only checkpoints in his life are the company's seven-member board, which he calls the Seven Dwarfs. As the only responsibility in his life, they're the only bane of his existence.

On the other hand, he hasn't formed many lasting relationships. His only friend is Brian Shelby (Lee), a would-be author who's known him since childhood. Shelby is the only one who will forgive David's self-absorption. All the women in David's life come and go and are as disposable as Kleenex.

Into the Twilight Zone

RESOURCES Behind the scenes of 'Vanilla Sky' Penelope Cruz Partyhopper - 'Vanilla Sky' 
Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz star in 'Vanilla Sky'

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In the beginning of the film David's current squeeze is Julie Gianni (Diaz). She's a "good time" kind of girl who has been around the proverbial block more than once. She and David are buddies who occasionally slip between the sheets together.

David is very happy with the arrangement. Apparently, she is too ... but it becomes clear very quickly that Julie wants more than David is willing to give.

Suddenly this somewhat linear romantic drama takes a nosedive into the Twilight Zone. In a remarkable scene, David drives into an utterly empty Times Square in Manhattan. This proves to be a nightmare he's experiencing.

But then, David is in a room wearing a mask and mumbling to a mild-mannered man called McCabe. Is this still a nightmare? McCabe is apparently a psychologist, and David is apparently under arrest for murder.

Things get really muddled as we're slammed from one genre to another. One second "Vanilla Sky" is a conventional drama; the next it's a weird science fiction tale. McCabe takes David back in time, some of which we've seen, some of which we haven't. Some of it is true, some of it isn't. Some of it's a dream, some of it's reality.

None of it makes much sense.

Careening contradictions

At his birthday party, David meets an exotic beauty named Sofia Serrano (Cruz). She's Shelby's date, but that changes fast. As if struck by lightning, David and Sofia fall instantly in love. She's everything he's always wanted, "the last guileless girl in New York City." He takes her home to her apartment and they talk all night, totally absorbed in each other.

When David leaves the next morning, Julie is outside waiting in her car. She convinces him to go for a fatal ride. Once he's in the car, Julie starts a tirade about his indifference toward her and her sudden undying love for him. She tells him that when they made love, his body made a promise to her, even if he didn't.

On that note of rational thought, she drives the car off a bridge, killing herself and disfiguring David -- hence the aforementioned mask disguising his mangled face.

Drowning in pop images, amid dozens of musical references, "Vanilla Sky" goes careening across the screen, flying from one contradiction to the next. Crowe is a highly gifted director and Cruise is no slouch when it comes to making movies, but the two have miscalculated with "Vanilla Sky." They jerk the audience's collective chain once too often while they flash back and forth between what is and isn't real -- leaving viewers stuck somewhere between confusion and contempt.

"Vanilla Sky" opens nationwide on Friday, December 14.


• 'Vanilla Sky' official site

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