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Posted at 11:35 AM ET, 06/23/2010

With 'Knight and Day' in theaters, it's time for ... Tom Cruise Court

By Jen Chaney and Liz Kelly

Welcome to Tom Cruise Court, a proceeding that allows us to finally decide whether Tom Cruise is a dangerously judgmental man who does not deserve our attention nor our box office dollars, or a charismatic movie star whose sometimes unconventional behavior is outweighed by his charms.

Choose your Cruise: 2005's 'Oprah' couch-jumper (top) or 1986's cocky Maverick.

On this semi-important day in Cruise history -- and by that we mean the date that "Knight and Day" opens in theaters nationwide -- your Celebritology bloggers will each make their case.

For the prosecution: Liz Kelly, who concedes that Cruise is a bankable box office star with a few decent movies ("Jerry Maguire," "Magnolia") to his credit, but is convinced his off-screen antics, including but not limited to a fanatical devotion to Scientology, his 2005 put down of Brooke Shields and dismissal of depression treatment as "pseudo-science" make it difficult to suspend disbelief and enjoy his movies without wanting to poke his eyes out.

For the defense: Jen Chaney, who acknowledges that Mr. Cruise has definitely done some weird stuff, but still harbors affection for an actor who once made quality cocktails while doing the Hippy, Hippy Shake, twirled a pool cue like it was a baton and not only dared to ride a highway, but rode it right into the danger zone.

Our jury: That would be you, the Celebritology readers. Read our arguments, then decide whether Cruise is officially done as a major movie star or whether he's still got it.

Read the back-and-forth after the jump, then vote in our poll...

Ms. Kelly: So we meet again, Chaney.

We're here today to consider one Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, a man who I intend to prove has seriously damaged his big-star credibility with his manic off-screen behavior. Sure, he's been a bit less of a kook lately, but I contend the damage was done in 2005 -- when he dismissed psychology as pseudo-science, berated Brooke Shields for getting help with post-partum depression and generally let his Scientology freak flag fly. Also, the guy isn't the world's best actor. But we'll get to that later.

Ms. Chaney: Thank you, Madame Prosecutor. Let's keep this on a formal, professional basis, shall we? After all, we are in a (blog) court of (celebrity) law (nonsense).

Ladies and gentlemen of the Celebritology jury, I think we are all aware of the circumstances Ms. Kelly speaks of. Mr. Cruise has indeed said some patently absurd things about post-partum depression (for which he later apologized) and dismissed the validity of psychology. I am not excusing that behavior.

What I intend to argue is that there is a charismatic, likable side of Cruise that some of us -- cough, Liz Kelly, cough -- have forgotten in all the TomKat drama that has dominated the past five years or so. I ask you to remember how you felt when you first saw him flash that Maverick grin in "Top Gun." To recall his intensity as he wrote his mission statement in "Jerry Maguire." To acknowledge that you kissed his photo in many issues of Teen Beat. And to consider that the guy had charisma and still does, regardless of his Scientology crusades. And speaking of the Scientology, sure, I don't agree with it. But who am I to judge? The closest thing to real religion in my life is a firm commitment to the Dharma Initiative, and frankly, that's equally weird.

Ms. Kelly: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I do want to state for the record that I intend no slight against any organized religion -- well, any one in particular, because honestly I have no use for any of 'em -- but it is a different matter when someone, Cruise in this case, attempts to impose his religiously-tinged worldview and limits on the rest of us. And in that 2005 interview in which Cruise shouted down Matt Lauer, that is exactly what he did. Any slight (and it would have been slight) teenaged affection I harbored for the guy died at precisely that moment. And while we're taking a stroll down memory lane, I'd ask the jury -- and my worthy (if misled) adversary to also consider some of Cruise's more cringeworthy moments on celluloid. Need I invoke "Cocktail?" "Far and Away?" "Eyes Wide Shut?"

I also contend that while Cruise may have a winning grin, he's never appealed to me in the way in which Ms. Chaney describes. If he had been allowed to sully a John Hughes movie, he would have been cast as a heartless jock, a bully, the kind of guy who would have stuffed Andrew McCarthy or Anthony Michael Hall into a locker without a twinge of humanity. To put this in "Karate Kid" terms (hey, why not) he is leg-sweeping Billy Zabka, not the plucky, likeable Ralph Macchio.

Ms. Chaney: Okay, now we're speaking in conjecture and hypotheticals. Let's not presume which roles Tom Cruise might have played in a John Hughes movie. Ms. Kelly is correct, Cruise has never quite played the wimpy underdog. But Celebritologists, let us at least give the man credit for some of the fine -- dare I say iconic? -- work he has done.

Ms. Kelly: OBJECTION! Ms. Chaney is implying that Ralph Macchio and Andrew McCarthy were "wimpy underdogs." I ask that be stricken from the record. Underdogs they may have been. Wimpy they were not.

Ms. Chaney: Jury, I contend that Macchio started out in "Karate Kid" as wimpy, even though he eventually transformed. But you may strike any implication about McCarthy's wimpiness -- though I am not sure I implied it -- as I very happily would have married him in 1986 if the opportunity had presented itself and it had been legal for a 13-year-old to marry a "Pretty in Pink" star.

May I continue, Madame Prosecutor?

Ms. Kelly: By all means...

Ms. Chaney: Thank you. I present you with the role of Joel Goodsen in "Risky Business," a part that launched Cruise into the stratosphere, made dancing to Bob Seger briefly cool, compelled a generation to buy Ray-Bans and made "Sometimes you just gotta say what the [bleep]?" a catch phrase for mid-80s excess. And the aforementioned Maverick in "Top Gun," a movie that simply would not have been as popular without Mr. Cruise, even with all that Kenny Loggins on the soundtrack. The list goes on and on: "Rain Man." "Born on the Fourth of July." "A Few Good Men." "The "Mission: Impossible" films. "Magnolia." "Jerry Ma-freaking-guire." Sure, he has a few "Cocktails" and (shudder) "Vanilla Skies" on his resume. But I'll tell you this, jury: I liked "Eyes Wide Shut."

Ms. Kelly: Pardon my delay. I was picking my jaw back up off the floor after Ms. Chaney's declaration that she actually liked "Eyes Wide Shut." Someone alert the press!

But back to the matter at hand: I ask, is the defense hanging too much of her argument on the relatively likeable, bankable Cruise of the last millennium? Should we not consider his more recent, downward-trending career trajectory? What of his dismissal from Paramount? The twin stinkers "Valkyrie" and "Lions for Lambs?" Their combined box office take might have been enough to fund an economy-sized pool for a studio exec. And what of the conjecture that Fox is downplaying Cruise's profile in their "Knight and Day" promotion? And how desperate was his MTV Movie Awards Les Grossman appearance? Would the dashing superstar that Ms. Chaney describes really need to resort to "Nutty Professor" Clumps-ish prosthetics to kickstart his career?

Ms. Chaney: Madame Prosecutor, you raise valid questions.

I acknowledge your points about "Lions for Lambs," but can only respond by noting that "Mission: Impossible III" was excellent and also made $397 million worldwide. And that was at the height of Cruise's couch-jumping, impose-Scientology-on-all Americans mode, a period that I agree was indeed troubling.

And regarding "Knight and Day," I will note that 63 percent of top critics on Rotten Tomatoes have given it a fresh rating, including the Post's own Michael O'Sullivan, who called the movie "utterly delightful." And none other than Kenneth Turan -- a respected film critic who not only writes for the L.A. Times, but frequently appears on NPR, which means he's IMPORTANT -- wrote this of Mr. Cruise: "If you doubt Cruise's skills in the star department, 'Knight and Day' should make you a believer. It's hardly a perfect film, not even close, but it is the most entertaining made-for-adults studio movie of the summer, and one of the reasons it works at all is the great skill and commitment Cruise brings to the starring role."

I cannot speak to the truth of said statements myself, since I went to the wrong theater and missed the press screening for "Knight and Day." (My parking ticket for the AMC Mazza Gallerie theater, which was punched out after 10 minutes, has been entered into evidence as Exhibit A.) But I respect the judgments of both Mr. Turan and Mr. O'Sullivan.

Ms. Kelly: I'm sure given time I could find some equally dismal reviews of "Knight and Day" which to my eye (granted, I'm not also a professional movie-person like my colleague here) looks like some kind of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" retread. I'll just offer this L.A. Times article into the record, which posits that the studio is muy nervous that the film will land with a giant belly-flop, partly because (aside from TC being annoying) he just doesn't resonate with young movie-goers who are more interested in next week's "Twilight" installment.

I'll also add that the New York Post's Lou Lumenick describes the "alleged action comedy" as a "big, dumb summer movie with no apparent ambition" and "an ultra-predictable plot that seems to have been cranked out by a computer screenwriting program without significant human input." Or that the Moira Macdonald, writing in the Seattle Times, called "Knight and Day" a "silly, incoherent movie" that "feels like a computer-generated assortment of random Hollywood action-movie scenes shuffled together."

But, I contend our cases have largely been made and that the jury has plenty of evidence to consider. Shall we make our brief closing arguments?

Ms. Chaney: Yes, let's. As a gentlewoman of the court, I'll let you go first.

Ms. Kelly: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'm sure after considering the evidence I've laid before you above, you'll agree that Tom Cruise, who may be deserving of a spot in the museum of pop culture nostalgia, went off the rails years ago -- both in terms of his personal life and his career. And while I wish him well with his stifled wife, fractured world view and sickly career, I contend we -- as movie-goers, as celebrity fans -- no longer owe this man fealty. Tom Cruise is a falling star and I say it is time we treat him as such.

The prosecution rests.

Ms. Chaney: Jury, I want you to know that I respect our prosecutor. I even think she makes some valid points about Mr. Cruise, most notably the fact that "Knight and Day" could very well be a colossal flop.

But Tom Cruise still deserves at least some of our affection. This is a man who -- despite the insistence of some Tom Cruise deniers -- was and, arguably, is an enormously beloved movie star around the globe. He's a man with three Academy Award nominations to his credit. Even those who have mocked his personal life, including Craig Ferguson, have found themselves now in his camp. What, you're not going to agree with Craig Ferguson? He's so Scottish, and seems so nice!

But perhaps the best reason to not dismiss Tom Cruise entirely can be found in an ESPN podcast from last August, in which roaster extraordinaire Jeffrey Ross explains how Cruise not only resolved a long-standing feud between Ross and Jimmy Kimmel's cousin Sal, but also showed up at Kimmel's house to watch football with his own mother and a fresh batch of cupcakes in tow. Tom Cruise may have beliefs you don't agree with and a marriage you find odd, but jury, know this: if he comes to your house to see a Redskins game, the man will bring dessert.

The defense rests.

By Jen Chaney and Liz Kelly  | June 23, 2010; 11:35 AM ET
Categories:  Celebrities, Movies, TomKat  | Tags:  Movies, Tom Cruise  
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I kinda think he should be done, but we won't get that lucky. He'll stay around out of habit more than anything else.

Posted by: talleyl | June 23, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Please note that I am refraining from any riffs on "hung jury."

Posted by: reddragon1 | June 23, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

PS I do not believe Cruise sucked in Valkyrie. He played an egotistical maniac, well-intentioned, with lots of ideas very well. Typecasting.

Posted by: reddragon1 | June 23, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I side with the honorable Ms. Chaney on this one. Tom Cruise has some crazy beliefs, but always seems like a nice guy to me, and there are at least 10 of his movies I have enjoyed over the years.

Posted by: Iowahoosier | June 23, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Tom Cruise can be enjoyable to watch, but I feel like he's been on an Oscar-prowl for many years. While I still enjoy him immensely in "A Few Good Men" - it paired the egotistical cocky thing with a meatier role beautifully, much like "Rain Man" - I don't think he's as talented as he thinks he is.

Compare him to Brad Pitt - it's been said that Brad Pitt is a character actor in a leading-man's body, and I buy that. While my favorite Brad Pitt roles are his odder or edgier ones - like "12 Monkeys", "Se7en" or "Snatch" - he is still wonderful in his varied handsome-man roles, like "Thelma and Louise", "Legends of the Fall" or "Mr. & Mrs. Smith". And he's actually got excellent comic timing - he's one of the best things about "Burn After Reading." He may not be Olivier, but he's got range.

Tom Cruise really doesn't, beyond charming and cocky. If he accepted that, I'd accept him more. I don't even think he does action hero very well either (except for his marvelous turn as Austin Powers ;) ). But he seems to want everyone to accept him as "serious" actor, when he doesn't do that role particularly well.

As for the Scientology thing - bah. Half the actors in Hollywood aren't overly bright and have their own whacked out opinions. Some I still like as actors, some I don't - but I hate it when actors start thinking their private lives and opinions make them very, very important. Acting skill combined with luck and the genetic blessing of good looks doesn't equal omniscience and omnipotence.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | June 23, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Wouldn't the correct legal term be "stipulate?"

Other than that, I care not.

Posted by: dablues1 | June 23, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

"Tom Cruise is a dangerously judgmental man who does not deserve our attention nor our box office dollars"

Yes, what you said right there

Of course, he is VERY gracious towards ashtrays that sit in a chair after he tells them to.

Oh look, new St. Petersburg Times articles about Scientology pretty much forcing Sea Org members to have abortions. No, not dangerous at all...

Posted by: NotForYou1 | June 23, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Well done, ladies. I tilted just a little bit towards the prosecution.

This was an excellent warm up for jury duty tomorrow.

Posted by: kbockl | June 23, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Fine courtroom antics, JeLi, but if I may re-direct your attention briefly:

ep's banging her head on a desk somewhere, muttering, "$100K for law school..."

Posted by: byoolin1 | June 23, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Stick a fork in him, he's done.

Posted by: sarah_metzger2 | June 23, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

I have to admit I was a bit nervous acting as a prosecutor in front of this audience which, as far as I can tell, is at least 40 percent lawyers.

Posted by: Liz Kelly | June 23, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

My fondest hope is that Wee Tom will either awaken from his $cientology-induced intellect-coma à la Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis, or else the cult will expel him for behavior unbecoming. Because, just as there's no zealot like a convert, there's no debunker like an ex-member.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | June 23, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

I think Tom Cruise used to have a good range as an actor (Born on the 4th of July, Magnolia), but that seems to have disappeared. Now it's all shoot-em-up, hyper-testosterone-fests with things blowing up and rescuing damsels in distress and whatnot. If he sunk his teeth into a meaty, low-key, maybe indie role, I might watch that. Otherwise, no way.

His offscreen life also seems to indicate that he's nothing more than his most famous roles: buying into the brainwashing of $cientolocult, serenading Katie Holmes with his Top Gun song. Earth to Tom: (a) you're not Maverick and (b) Maverick is SO passe anyway. Was Katie Holmes even born when he acted that role?

Much like with Michael Jackson, I have trouble separating the whackadoodleness from the talent.

Posted by: Californian11 | June 23, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Full disclosure: Tom Cruise reminds me of my brother (in the "cute smile for an adoring little sister" way).

So I whip out a Dolly Parton favorite and sing loud and proud to my brot- er, Tom: "I will always love you!"

Posted by: cfow1 | June 23, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Now it's all shoot-em-up, hyper-testosterone-fests with things blowing up and rescuing damsels in distress and whatnot.

As though he doth protest too much?

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | June 23, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

So far the comments are pretty tame, I was expecting to see the usual whackiness we see when the cult is mentioned. Yesterday Michael Jackson, today Tom Cruise, who's on for tomorrow Oprah?

Posted by: jes11 | June 23, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

For the last 5 years I would have completely sided with Liz on this one...but for some reason Knight and Day looks really appealing. Its freaking me out but I think I want to see it. Big applause for the marketing team of this film because you got me!

Posted by: sjcpeach | June 23, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

When I watch Top Gun, I prefer to pretend that where Tom Cruise is concerned, anything post-1996 just never happened. I do like a good freak show though, so maybe if he sticks around we'll get some amusement out of it.

Posted by: dcn8v | June 23, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

I'm on team Liz here.
The question, though, isn't whether I can suspend judgment and let him disappear into character. It is whether I want to, and I don't.
The Brooke bashing, the Scientology videos, and the general whackadoodle whack whack of his personality mean I don't want to give him or those who hire him a dime!

Posted by: caroleg1 | June 23, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

I dislike him with enough intensity that a comeback would be fascinating.

He'd have to really humble himself, and he'd have to quit the Scientology stuff, at least publically. Katie would have to revert to human form.

But, man, if she did, and if he cut loose and did something truly talented and vulnerable - that would be worth watching.

The opposite of love is not hate, it's ambivalence. I'm not ambivalent yet.

Posted by: Roxie1 | June 23, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Any Tom Cruise charm, charisma, and likability that may once have existed has long since evaporated and gone to Scientology heaven (if there is such a thing) like an overinflated air mattress with a dime size hole in it...

Posted by: sarahbonnie1 | June 23, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Could a turn in a Tarentino flick save him? Worked for his fellow $cientolo-nut Travolta & many others.

I'm over him too even though I still have most of Risky Business memorized.

Also, what about Legend? Why does Cruise pretty much disown this flick? Granted he's not the reason the movie is awesome, in fact it's great despite Cruise. I guess he knew that Tim Curry was gonna shred everything in sight (& did) & Curry's Devil would be the indelible image we'd all remember, so he just pretends he never made it.

He'd have to make more than a few changes for me to be interested again.

Posted by: wadejg | June 23, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Exactly, Nosy. Way too much.

Katie will revert to human form after she gets over the divorce. I don't remember when they got married, but Cruise will file for divorce before they hit the 10-year mark and trade her in for a younger model.

Posted by: Californian11 | June 23, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Excellent, excellent! I really enjoyed this, and Ms. Chaney made me seriously debate my anti-Cruise stance. For me, it grinds down to his association with Scientology. The charm and sweetness are all nice and good, but when they're conjoined to a organization that's creepy as f*@&, well, I keep looking for him to spit poison at me like a snake.

Posted by: Bawlmer51 | June 23, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Cruise will file for divorce before they hit the 10-year mark...

Probably a pre-nup condition Tom won't want have to pony up (oooh, I said "pony"!) for that invests at the end of 120 months.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | June 23, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

My view, worth exactly what you paid for it, is that Cruise can put on a fine performance if he's in the right role and he's working with the right director. As far as the scientology-anti-psychology whackdoodliness goes, most of that stuff, if I recall correctly, came in one large burst about five years ago, and he's mostly kept his mouth shut about that stuff since then. Is there a statute of limitations on nutcakery?

Posted by: KevFromArlington | June 23, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Way late to the party today--

As whacked out as I think he is, it hasn't moved me to the point where I look at him and think "God, what an awful human being"...unlike, say, Tiger Woods who I simply can't look at without thinking what a pig he is. When you come down to it, TC's whackiness and wrongheaded beliefs don't really have any effect on the world or anyone around him not his intimates. And while they are certainly unpalateable and disagreeable, they at least aren't revolting.

All of the clips and trailers I've seen for Knight and Day look delightful. He's got his crazy on for this role, and it suits him (I laugh EVERY time I see the bit after he's shot Marc in the leg). I need a nice lightweight action comedy right now, so I will be adding to the boxoffice this weekend with expectation of being merely entertained. If it was something else starring him in the vein of Valkyrie or whatever, not a chance. But for this, I'm in.

So I guess that puts me on Team Chaney for this round.

Posted by: sorcerers_cat | June 23, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

Meh. I know some consider Cruise a star, but sorry Jen, I could never really stand him. (And yes, I am a hetero female in your age group.) Every Tom Cruise movie feels to me like a movie about Tom Cruise being in love with Tom Cruise. The Mission Impossible movies were the absolute worst in that respect, and I haven't been able to force myself to watch him in anything since.

Posted by: cookgirl1 | June 24, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

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