The business of hating Tom Cruise is in top form, as his new action-comedy with Cameron Diaz, Knight and Day, is getting slated for bombing at the box office. There’s something gleeful about the way K&D’s alleged belly flop is being reported: “Toys Will Crush Cruise At Box Office,” crowed Forbes. “See ‘Knight & Day’ and Save Tom Cruise’s Career,” advised Cinematical.
Most of the negative reaction was based on the film’s soft $3.8 million opening on Wednesday; expectations were $5 million or more. By the end of the weekend K&D was on pace for a $28 million total, placing it well behind the Toy Story 3 and, more troublingly, the dead-eyed Adam Sandler “comedy” Grown Ups, which made $41 million.
So the actual truth here is that K&D has underperformed, but not to the extent of other summer roadkill like Jonah Hex and Killers. Nevertheless, the Cruise-bashing continues unabated, with several articles already popping up, wondering whether the current film’s “poor” box office puts Mission: Impossible 4 in doubt.
Why the vicious hatred for the one-time box office king whose very birth name (Thomas Mapother IV) sounds like a sequel? Building up celebrities just to tear them down is certainly nothing new—as the Twilight cast members are finding out with any non-Twilight release—but there’s an especially malicious tone to much of the Cruise coverage over the past five years, dating to the infamous Oprah couch incident.
The spectacle of Cruise leaping about the Oprah set proclaiming his love for Katie Holmes was popularly parsed in two ways: A shocking indication that he’d lost his marbles after years of micro-managing his image, or just another coldly calculated move that couldn’t be trusted. That the guy may simply have been sincerely expressing his joy didn’t seem possible, and coupled with his well-documented membership in the Church of Scientology, Cruise came to be viewed as an unstable, possibly dangerous character. Would you want him to date your sister?
Since then: Spielberg’s smash War of the Worlds, MI3 (which by itself should have clinched MI4’s demise), Redford’s DOA Lions for Lambs (more Redford’s fault than Cruise’s), and Valkyrie, which despite the eye patch and iffy German accent ended up grossing over $200 million worldwide. There was also his small role as bizarre, foul-mouthed producer Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder, which was actually funnier on paper than it was on screen.
With the exception of Lions, all of those films were hits, and the jury’s still out on K&D’s ultimate fate. Yet the vitriol remains:
Holmes has been brainwashed into a loveless marriage; their daughter Suri is either adopted or spoiled beyond belief; and besides all that, Cruise can’t act.
I can’t say he’s the most wide-ranging talent, but Oscar-nominated turns in Born on the Fourth of July and Magnolia still hold up, as does his performance in Rain Man. As part of its desperate campaign to counter the naysaying, K&D studio Fox has employed second-tier critics’ quotes in its ads: (“Tom Cruise is at his Jerry Maguire best,” Extra’s Adam Weissler, said, nonsensically), and since Wednesday outlets ranging from the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Roger Ebert have been part of the push.
So why all the venom? Is it possible that Cruise has racked up so many negative factors—jealousy over his huge success, Scientology, his sometimes oddball behavior, the “can’t act” tag—that he’s somehow asking for it? I think Cruise has proven himself slick and savvy enough that finding another hit—MI4 or another collaboration with Spielberg—isn’t out of the question. Repairing his personal reputation? That’ll take more than a little Ethan Hunt determination.