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Heroes of the Zeroes: Vanilla Sky

by on November 16, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Vanilla Sky”
Rated R

A vinyl-collector’s version of “Jacob’s Ladder,” 2001’s “Vanilla Sky” bravely dove into surreal, head-swimming sci-fi — casting Tom Cruise as an unhinged, maimed malcontent and examining the folly of substituting entertainment for experience.

Adapting 1997’s “Abre Los Ojos” into a pop-culture parable, writer-director Cameron Crowe found himself on foreign sand.

Coming off an Oscar win for “Almost Famous,” Crowe was demonstrably deft at dramedies that simultaneously spoke to three generations. But “Sky’s” damningly divisive critical response beat his milquetoast retreat to “Elizabethtown.”

Yet “Sky’s” daring gamble pays off even when Crowe’s ambition exceeds his grasp — a freak-show reflection, but not rejection, of Crowe and Cruise’s “Jerry Maguire,” with redemptive romance tempered by resentment, melancholy and bitter humor.

Cruise is David Aames, a narcissistic playboy who survives a car accident with severe disfigurement. He’s accused of murder, but is it a conspiracy to wrestle away his empire? And while falling for Sofia (Penelope Cruz), why is he beset by visions of Julie (Cameron Diaz), a needy booty call who supposedly perished in the wreck?

From David’s haunting Times Square sprint to a fascinating conclusion with multiple interpretations, “Sky” thrusts us into dreams and hallucinations — like pushing headphones into ears while cranking “Revolution No. 9.”

Meanwhile, as Alfred Hitchcock did for Jimmy Stewart in “Vertigo,” Crowe pushes Cruise to dark, if not image-shattering, places.

The burning cauldron of the subconscious can boil over with too much pop culture poured in. Keep that in mind, and “Sky” will have you at “What the hell?”