Though not a Baskin-Robbins flavor, 'Vanilla Sky' cold to taste

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Though not a Baskin-Robbins flavor, 'Vanilla Sky' cold to taste

Have you ever gotten lost between waking and dreaming - unsure what is real and what is not? That netherworld is the backdrop for "Vanilla Sky," a cerebral tale of love and consequences told from one man's point of view.

In Cameron Crowe's remake of "Open Your Eyes" ("Abre Los Ojos") - a 1997 Spanish-language film directed by Alejandro Amenabar - the man is David Aames (Tom Cruise). The heir to a magazine empire, David snowboards through a gilded life. Among his friends are Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz), who casually comes over for chicken soup and sex, and Brian Shelby (Jason Lee), who does not. The only moguls in this perfect downhill run are the Seven Dwarves, the seven board members of his company. But since David has 51 percent control, the Seven Dwarves are only a minor annoyance.

The plot of "Vanilla Sky" is faithful to "Open Your Eyes," with the addition of surreal special effects, rich pop culture references, some dialogue changes and a new setting - the fast and happening New York City.

In this rich man's utopia, talented and beautiful women are little more than props. David cruelly tosses aside Julie when he meets Sofia (Penelope Cruz, reprising her role in the original). Sofia may be Brian's date to David's birthday party, but that is a trivial detail to a careless player. Despite Brian's request for David to stay away from Sofia, David pursues "the last guileless person in New York."

Their impromptu date ends with a sweet kiss hinting at the potential for true love. It is the ultimate fairy tale - a rich cad who finds love and redemption; the poor girl who meets Prince Charming. David declares that his life will change, and walks into a door on his way out. Sofia kicks her heels in girlish delight.

But outside, Julie waits. She invites David for a ride. Redemption is tested by a moment of choices and consequences. David hesitates, but accepts. Crazed by hurt and betrayal, Julie drives the car over a bridge in a double-suicide attempt. She dies; David lives, but is disfigured.

The beast, who has no place in a world of beauty, starts wandering between reality and haunted longings. As we see flashes of David in a prison, now wearing a mask, the movie becomes a quest for redemption. Someone is dead, who is guilty? Is it David? Clues can be found throughout the movie, in a manner reminiscent of "The Matrix."

Cameron Crowe created an offbeat gem about adolescence with the screenplay for "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982), then directed another teen classic, "Say Anything" (1989). The college graduate scene was the background for "Singles" (1992). With "Jerry Maguire" (1997), also starring Cruise, Crowe discusses moral struggles in the adult world. These, along with "Almost Famous" (2000, but yet to be released in Korea), have three-dimensional characters whose failings feel human. Science fiction may be a new genre for Crowe, but he has a deft touch for the love story and the perfect sound track. The characters of "Vanilla Sky," named after a Monet painting, are not wholly inviting. David, the ultimate yuppie bachelor, may not be as warped as Patrick Bateman of "American Psycho," but is still a complete jerk. Sofia and Julie have a warmth, but the plot is so fragmented, shifting between time and reality, that both women are relegated to side roles except for their significance in David's mind.

But with Cruise playing David, the main character is vivid with charm, pain, and, at moments, something akin to humility. Diaz also turns in an extraordinary performance. She imbues Julie with an intensity that is different from the quiet anguish Najwa Nimri portrayed in the original.

In its entirety, "Vanilla Sky" feels cold. The plot is a mind game like "Total Recall," which is unusual for Crowe. The questions about reality, beauty, humanity, love, and responsibility are heavy and many.

Even with these shortcomings, however, the journey to the end of this dark psychodrama is a mind-blowing experience that will leave you either dazed or energized.

by Joe Yong-hee

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