by D.W. Lundberg

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Knight And Day stars Cameron Diaz as a single, solitary Boston gal who falls for a charming stranger on a return flight from Wichita, Kansas. They meet when she bumps into him at the airport – twice, literally. On the plane, they strike up some sparkling conversation. Later, she emerges from the lavatory to find he's killed every passenger on board, including the pilots (actually, he explains, he shot the first pilot who in his death throes turned and shot the other one). He crashes the plane in a cornfield, and the two of them emerge unharmed from the wreckage. Still, she's curiously unfazed – if anything, the fact that this man may in fact be a serial killer only makes him more mysterious... and more attractive. (He did not, after all, try to kill her.) Also, it helps that he's played by Tom Cruise.

You remember Tom Cruise. He used to be kind of a big deal. It was that big, toothy grin of his, the cocky assuredness that made him a star. Audiences ate it up – men, women, it didn't matter. Top Gun. Days Of Thunder. A Few Good Men. The Firm. Mission: Impossible. Jerry Maguire. All $100-million-plus grossers in U.S. box office revenue alone. By 2009, his films totaled over $6.5 billion worldwide. Clearly, the guy could do no wrong. In 1997, Empire magazine even voted him one of the five top movie stars of all time.

Then came 2005, and everything changed. It started in May, with his now-notorious "couch-jumping" incident on The Oprah Winfrey Show, during which Cruise made a romantic fool of himself over his budding relationship with actress Katie Holmes. (Some felt it was more of an over-the-top circus act than an actual declaration of "love," a publicity stunt designed to quash escalating rumors that Cruise might be homosexual). In June, Cruise's devotion to Scientology and its practices got him into hot water as well. He spoke out publicly against the use of prescription drugs, targeting actress Brooke Shields over her claims that the drug Paxil helped cure her postpartum depression. (Scientology, it must be noted, teaches that chemical imbalances such as depression are all a state of mind, and can be cured by a daily regimen of vitamins and minerals, plus rigorous "training rituals" designed to alter behavioral patterns.) Then, on The Today Show that same month, Cruise forcefully argued his point with Matt Lauer, calling his interviewer "glib" and uninformed on the subject, and furthering Cruise's/Scientology's belief that psychiatry has no basis in scientific fact. (Cruise later personally apologized to Shields, who was a guest at Cruise and Holmes' wedding in Italy.)

On June 29th, War Of The Worlds opened in theaters, eventually grossing $592 million (a feat attributed more to its special effects and director Steven Spielberg than to Cruise's star power). The "damage," though, had already been done. Rarely had an actor been so vocal about his personal beliefs, and the public didn't like it.

When Paramount's Mission: Impossible III debuted in May 2006 to a less-than-impressive $47.7 million opening weekend (again, can somebody tell me how numbers like that are considered "less-than- impressive"?), industry analysts were aghast: Clearly, the actor's popularity among fans had taken a turn for the worse. Viacom (and Paramount conglomerate) chair Sumner Redstone blamed Cruise's "controversial" behavior, and officially severed ties with the actor's production company, Cruise| Wagner, in August.

Now poor Tom Cruise can barely open a movie. Box office reaction to the World War II thriller Valkyrie was lukewarm at best ($8.5 million opening weekend, Christmas 2008), and Knight And Day, one of Twentieth Century Fox's higher-profile releases for summer 2010, opened in third place with a $20.5 million tally (reported, helpfully, by the New York Daily News as the worst opening for a Tom Cruise movie in 20 years).

This is an especially hard blow to Knight And Day. It's a perfectly serviceable romance/comedy/globe-trotting adventure with a breezy, Mr. And Mrs. Smith vibe (minus the marriage-as-metaphor slant). James Mangold's direction is fun and light on its feet, as are the stars, who've got mega-watt charisma to spare. Here's hoping its DVD/Blu-Ray sales will at least help it turn a better profit.

What this really goes to show, at least on a psychological level, is that audiences prefer their movie stars to keep their big mouths shut. It's all well and good to see our favorite Hollywood icons strut their stuff on the big screen, but off that pedestal, speaking openly about their personal lives, well, that's off limits.

(To put this in perspective, let's compare. John Travolta, his wife Kelly Preston, Kirstie Alley, Isaac Hayes: all Scientologists. Yet none of them as outspoken about it as Cruise. Religious beliefs in any shape or form tend to make other people uncomfortable, nervous even, and reports of celebrities trying to recruit others to their cause is reason for mass hysteria, especially when you consider that, to some people, religion is considered a form of brainwashing. And who'd want to support a guy who promotes that? The bottom line: It's OK to be religious, just as long as you don't talk about it in public. Keep that information to yourself, man.)

(Also, as celebrity relationships go, it's second nature for these people, like buying a new pair of sunglasses or chewing gum. Wait in line at your neighborhood Wal-Mart and look to your left or right. You'll see rows of tabloid magazines headlined by movie stars' latest conquests, randomly-snapped photos of men and women walking arm in arm, content as can be. Last week I was particularly glad to see that Jake Gyllenhaal is currently dating country music sweetheart Taylor Swift; that really made my day. Just don't let me catch ol' Jake leaping across furniture, shouting her name to the heavens on some popular daytime talk show, because I'm totally against that.)

Pictured: Celebrity Sacrilege.

Myself, I can't understand what all the hoopla's about. You should be able to keep that whole personal/professional dichotomy separate when it comes to choosing your movies. It shouldn't matter what a person does in their spare time, away from the spotlight, as long as they're not hurting anyone.

I like Tom Cruise. Always have. He got by on his looks and boyish-jock persona when he first started out, that's for sure, but over time I'd say he's earned his stripes as an Actor, especially by the time Jerry Maguire rolled around (that's an important Cruise performance, a classic inversion of a typical star persona if there ever was one). He's got the charm and the gravity we value in all our major movie stars, and Knight And Day, I think, is a welcome reconfirmation of that.

And before you disagree with me, you should seriously reconsider your feelings on that. Ask yourself: Did you like Tom Cruise before all this Scientology/couch-jumping nonsense reared its ugly head? Did you actually look forward to the day his latest blockbuster opened in theaters? (His pre- 2005 box office record would suggest that you did.) Or did you always harbor some deep-seated, personal vendetta against the guy, only you've finally let it out to breathe, now that it's become the popular thing to do?

Sadder still, this is hardly an isolated case. Too many of our cherished Hollywood icons have fallen by the wayside, too many careers seemingly cut short, either because we've lost interest in them and the types of films they make, or because of personality issues made public. Here are three recent examples of movie-stars-turned-proverbial-punching-bags:


Star: Meg Ryan

Box Office Run: Sleepless In Seattle, French Kiss, City Of Angels, You've Got Mail

The Rise: She was America's Sweetheart. Bright, bubbly, wholesome, adorable. You went to see the latest Meg Ryan Romantic Comedy and fell in love with her over and over again. Her chemistry with Tom Hanks in Joe Versus The Volcano, Sleepless In Seattle, and You've Got Mail, I would argue, rivals Hepburn and Tracy.

The Fall: Then, in 2000, while filming the kidnap-for-ransom thriller Proof Of Life with Russell Crowe, that reputation soured. The tabloids reported, accurately, that Ryan had engaged in an affair with co-star Crowe, while separated from then-husband Dennis Quaid. Suddenly, audiences didn't find her quite so wholesome any more. (Never mind that Quaid had affairs of his own; this is Hollywood, after all, where men are held to a much lower standard.) Proof Of Life, suffice it to say, did not ring many box office bells. Three years later, in what seemed like a blatant media-hungry gambit, Ryan bared her mind, body and soul (but mostly her body) for Jane Campion's In The Cut, an "erotic" murder mystery that came and went without much fanfare. In recent years, Ryan has been relegated to supporting roles, in films like 2008's In The Land Of Women.

Star: Mel Gibson

Box Office Run: Lethal Weapon series, Braveheart, Ransom, The Patriot, Signs

The Rise: Mad Max brought Gibson international attention in 1979, which led to high-profile roles in The Year Of Living Dangerously (1982), Mrs. Soffel (1984), and his volatile turn as police detective Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon – his signature role. It was Gibson's energy and devil-may-care persona that made him popular with audiences. In 1995, he proved himself a capable filmmaker as well, with Braveheart, Oscar-winner for Best Picture and Best Direction.

The Fall: "Mad Mel's" ongoing battle with manic depression and alcoholism finally came to a head in July 2006, when he was arrested for drunk driving in Malibu, California. A police report was leaked to the press, in which Gibson was quoted making racial slurs while in custody. Though he later issued a public apology for his actions, these "despicable" comments helped substantiate claims that he was an anti-Semite. Following a self- imposed exile from acting (after Signs in 2002), Gibson starred in 2010's Edge Of Darkness, directed by Martin Campbell, about a cop who avenges the murder of his daughter. Audiences, meanwhile, had apparently grown tired of this raging routine from his stint in the tabloids; Darkness grossed a mere $80 million worldwide. Adding insult to injury, telephone recordings of Gibson shouting racial epithets at ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva in June have been made public.

Star: Lindsay Lohan

Box Office Run: The Parent Trap (1998), Freaky Friday (2003), Mean Girls

The Rise: Perhaps it's a bit of a stretch to include Ms. Lohan on this list, since she started acting at such a young age and only seemed destined for super stardom. But hers is a cautionary tale well worth mentioning. From 1998 to 2005, she was Disney's go-to girl for box office trifles aimed squarely at families and pre-teen girls, with starring roles in both The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday remakes, plus Confessions Of A Teenage Drama Queen and Herbie: Fully Loaded.

The Fall: 2006 began Lindsay's downward spiral from lovable child star to drug-addicted, alcoholic harpy. She became well known for her all-night party habits and often reported late for work each morning with a hangover. In early 2007, she checked herself into a Los Angeles rehabilitation center while shooting I Know Who Killed Me, a torture porn thriller starring Lohan as (SPOILER) psychic twins – one an aspiring pianist, the other a stripper. In May, and again in July, Lohan was arrested for DUIs; by August, she'd undergone her third go at rehabilitation in the course of a single year, pleaded guilty to cocaine possession, and was sentenced to three years' probation. Today these antics have cost Lohan dearly and movie producers either cannot or will not hire her because of insurance issues. So goes the high price of fame.

UPDATE: My wife thought it'd be a good idea, and I agree with her, to give a brief shout-out to those Stars who have managed to rise from the ashes of a particularly nasty public-image fiasco. Because for every Meg, Mel and Lindsay out there, there's also Robert Downey Jr., Hugh Grant, Christian Bale and Drew Barrymore. So you see, there's hope. Even George Clooney rebounded from Batman & Robin


  1. Good article about Meg Ryan,who was my favourite actress from the late 80's through the 90's.
    Sad to say her career is virtually over for all the reasons you detail above so I'll have to content myself watching her old films on DVD and posting about them on my blog.
    I'm going to have a look at your backposts and I'll leave some comments as I go.

  2. Great job Darin! This might be my favorite post so far. I do however have to confess that I never have really EVER liked Tom Cruise. Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed a lot of his movies but it wasn't ever him that made them. Ask Elisabeth. When I found out she thought he was "hot" I about disowned her! ;)

  3. Well written and interesting. A first time reader...and I'll be back. Thanks Darin