Cruise Control

June 29, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

A certain degree of eccentricity is expected from celebrities. After all, considering their offbeat career choices (they spend their time pretending to be someone else) and stratospheric salaries, it's unreasonable to think they'll be "just like everyone else." But, with his much-publicized antics during the past six weeks, Tom Cruise has exceeded the curve. He has gone from being one of War of the Worlds' biggest assets to one of its biggest problems. There are two sayings in Hollywood that almost everyone subscribes to: "No publicity is bad publicity" and "There's no such thing as too much publicity." The Cruise situation may prove both sayings to be apocryphal.

When Cruise and Katie Holmes made a public spectacle of their whirlwind romance, it was cute but inconsequential. Little did we know, that was only the beginning. Since then, Cruise has entered a scorched earth mode in which he has taken on all comers. Step aside, Oprah! Watch out, Brooke Shields! Heads up, Matt Lauer!

Most people have religious beliefs, so few can criticize Cruise for his, or for professing them publicly. Opinions are one thing (and you know the saying about them...); the problem is, Cruise doesn't have his facts straight, and when he starts mouthing off about "established historical" incidents that are anything but that, one has to begin wondering where he's getting his information from, and why he isn't checking its veracity beforehand. So, as the truth emerges, he comes across looking like a dolt who believes every urban legend he has been exposed to. A few people have called his recent attacks on psychiatry "dangerous." I disagree. Anyone who looks to Tom Cruise for advice about how to handle a psychiatric problem deserves what they get. What those comments are accomplishing, however, is to make him into a laughingstock.

An anti-Cruise backlash is building. It's unlikely to significantly impact the box office gross of War of the Worlds because the film has other things going for it, not the least of which is the director. But is it possible to watch Cruise on screen and not at least momentarily think of his ludicrous off-screen image? Even those who (like me) studiously avoid tabloids and tabloid TV shows know the situation. It's the talk of Hollywood; if you're in the movie business, you know about it.

Which leads to the obvious next question: who in their right mind would hire Cruise in the future? Supposedly, his next project is the troubled Mission Impossible 3, but you have to wonder if Paramount will bite the bullet and pull the plug. Unless Cruise undergoes some image rehabilitation, he's damaged goods. Currently, "apologetic" does not appear to be on his agenda. He's out there preaching Scientology doctrine, and it's not going over well.

There are similarities between what's happening with Cruise and what happened with Mel Gibson around the time when The Passion of the Christ was released. After all, both situations involve popular movie icons emerging as preachers for a religious cause. But there are differences as well. Gibson may never act in another blockbuster movie, but he has directing to fall back on, and that appears to be what he's interested in doing. Cruise, on the other hand, has never crossed behind the camera (although, like Gibson, he has a successful production company). And Gibson's doctrine represents that of a mainstream religion (albeit a splinter sect)- Catholicism. Scientology, on the other hand, is viewed by many as either a cult or a "fake" religion. Fundamentalist Christians flocked to The Passion of the Christ. Every living Scientologist alive could see a Cruise movie and it wouldn't make a blip at the box office.

But the big issue here has more to do with ego than religion. Cruise has such an inflated opinion of himself that he believes people will listen when he talks about issues not associated with his area of expertise (movies). An actor is the last person I'm going to consult if I have questions about post-pardum depression or chemical imbalances. Ironically, based on his erratic behavior patterns, Cruise appears to be in need of therapy. Since that's not going to happen, his next course of action should be to adopt a conciliatory, low-key approach, otherwise the Martians won't be the only things going down in flames.