Tom Cruise's new movie gets panned in London.

Inside the big picture show.
Oct. 25 2007 11:32 AM

The Couch Jumper Can't Win

Tom Cruise's new moviegets panned in London.

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Tom Cruise. Click image to expand.
Tom Cruise

Bad Orgones: The first reviews for Lions for Lambs, the Redford-Cruise-Streep collaboration, are coming in, and they are not good.

The movie was a hot ticket at a London film festival this week, but the Times of London derided its "almost autistic lack of personality." Variety called it "talky." We suspect it costs reviewers some anguish to smite Robert Redford, but in the early going, Lions for Lambs is scoring a weak 40 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

This is not surprising considering the setup of the movie: Tom Cruise as a slick senator tries to sell a skeptical journalist (Meryl Streep) on a war strategy that is failing as he speaks. Robert Redford is an earnest college professor who tries to inspire an uninvolved student. Two of Redford's former students, having enlisted, try to survive the failing strategy in Afghanistan. All three vignettes involve a great deal of talking.

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Even if Lions for Lambs were the greatest movie ever, it would face tough sledding in today's marketplace. The public is lining up to see the football comedy The Game Plan and recoiling from a spate of serious and rather depressing films, a number of which have to do with the war on terror.

Lions for Lambs is in for a lot of scrutiny, not just because of its star cast but because it's the first film released under the United Artists banner since Tom Cruise and his producing partner, Paula Wagner, took over. And it wasn't a bad idea. Cruise was coming off couch-jumping and Matt Lauer-scolding. Allying himself with Redford and Streep could have been good. Cruise's eagerness placed him in an unusual role: performing in and producing a topical, political film. He doesn't seem entirely at ease: Variety noted that he "didn't exactly morph into Tim Robbins" during a question-and-answer session after a New York-area screening last week, concluding that the actor "hadn't decided exactly what positions to stake out and was using the event as a rehearsal for his views."

But back to business. The film's lack of commercial appeal wouldn't be a problem if the movie were generating reviews that would give it Oscar fuel. But it isn't, and UA's got two more tough-to-market movies coming down the pipeline. Up next is Valkyrie, in which Cruise plays Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, a German icon who tried to assassinate Hitler. You might recall that the Germans—hostile to Scientology—wouldn't allow filming in the Bendlerblock, where Stauffenberg was executed. When the government relented, footage shot there was mysteriously damaged in the lab and had to be reshot.

Valkyrie is a period piece with a downer ending, but at least it's directed by Bryan Singer, who has The Usual Suspects and the first two X-Men to his credit. He might be able to make a movie that has some box office appeal, though whether the public is prepared to swallow Cruise in a Nazi uniform with an eye patch is obviously a looming question. (One industry veteran sniped that the photo from the production makes Cruise look like one of the Village People.)

The third movie coming from UA is Oliver Stone's take on the My Lai massacre. No kidding. At least they cast Bruce Willis instead of Mel Gibson, who was considered at one point.

Cruise has clearly steered away from the conventional wisdom that he should do career repair with an action movie or romantic comedy. And he was among the canniest of stars for many years, so maybe he knows what's best for him. But if Cruise is reinventing himself as an actor in and producer of "quality" movies, that may not be compatible with reviving United Artists. Given the cost of doing such risky business, most industry observers doubt that mission would be possible even if Cruise and Wagner were trying to make popcorn movies instead of chasing an adult audience that is frequently inclined to wait for the DVD. (link)

Oct. 22, 2007