All actors parlay artifice for a living, so on some level all film actors are full of crap. Good film actors make you forget that they're full of crap, at least for an hour or two.
At no point in his career has Tom Cruise convinced me that he's not full of crap.
This is not to say that Cruise is incompetent; far from it. He hits his marks, delivers his lines with a modicum of professionalism most of the time, and has impersonated a feeling entity efficiently enough that he's hoodwinked a staggering amount of people that I respect (filmmakers, critics, and fans alike). He's never given a performance as hilariously inept as Brad Pitt in, well, 85% of Brad Pitt movies. The void in Tom Cruise's work goes deeper; bluntly put, the guy's got no soul.
Picking on Tom Cruise at the moment is as fashionable as a trip to Sak's 5th Avenue and as easy as Lindsay Lohan after three beers. But I've been riding the Tom Cruise Un-fan Wagon for a lot of years, kids, so I've earned the right to jab at L. Ron Hubbard's most high-profile monkey.
Consider this documentation of my Tom Cruise Odyssey to be a sort of Cruise Enema, a purging of The Grinner from my system. I've wasted enough of my time and text on this joker.
Tom Cruise Movies I've Seen:
Taps (1981): He's the irritating attitudinal cadet in the beret. If I remember right he gets shot, which makes it one of the better Cruise appearances, come to think of it.
The Outsiders (1983): I like Coppola's homage to the Juvenile Delinquency genre, and Cruise's presence is sparse enough to do relatively minimal damage. If he hadn't-a prettied his smile up by capping that chipped front tooth, he'd probably be co-starring with Lorenzo Lamas in Snake Eater IV about now.
Risky Business (1983): Alien-Worshipping Dwarf Boy's breakout role. There are strains of cleverness in this teen comedy, but Cruise adds (to my mind) nothing to the role of an upper-crust kid who's up to his tighty-whiteys in hooker-and-vice-induced trouble. His signature scene--the underwear lip-sync--illustrates this. This should be a comically liberating moment of adolescent abandon. Instead, it's just a conceited, entitled pompous pud who thinks he's about a thousand times cooler than he is, wiggling his ass. Someone give this ponce a wedgie--STAT.
All the Right Moves (1983): This formula jock/coming-of-age drama features Cruise as a working-class kid. No. Does not compute. Too pretty. Too disingenous.
Legend (1985): Cruise foregoes shampoo to play a young lad in a far-off kingdom who rescues a beautiful maiden (Mia Sara) from the evil demon Darkness (Tim Curry). No, the script isn't much help, but El Smirko is pure butter-on-stale-white-bread here; bland and forgettable.
Top Gun (1986): Tom Cruise catapults from mild nuisance to outright screamingly aggravating pop culture migraine with his star turn as flyboy Maverick in this Reagan-era megahit. When guys like Errol Flynn and Kirk Douglas played this type of role in decades past, women wanted to be with 'em and men wanted to be 'em. Cruise, conversely, distills his already noxious overcompensating cockiness into a 120-proof cocktail of fratboy smugness. Yeah, the movie's undeniably a relic of its era, but even back then I wanted to pelt Tom Cruise with raw hamburger. To this day, I could kick myself for letting one of my friends cajole me into watching Top Gun with the old "If you're really open-minded, you'll watch this movie I rented" ploy.
The Color of Money (1986): Director Martin Scorsese hit upon a seemingly obvious (but perfect) strategy: If you've got an irredeemably smug, preening jerk of an actor, why not have him play an irredeemably smug and preening jerk? Cruise is still trying too frickin' hard here, but Scorsese tapped into the actor's limited bag of tricks as few directors have.
Cocktail (1988): Speaking of putrescent eighties relics, this soused soap opera makes Top Gun look like Memento. Any schlocky fun to be had here gets squeezed as dry as an overused cocktail lemon by Cruise's unctious presence.
Rain Man (1988): Barry Levinson takes a cue from the Scorsese Care and Feeding of Dilligent-but-Mediocre-Actors Guidebook by harnessing and utilizing Cruise's disingenuousness to appropriate aesthetic effect. In plain English, that means Cruise is still unlikeable and full of crap, but in Rain Man, he's supposed to be unlikeable and full of crap. Any one of a dozen actors of the era coulda filled Cruise's shoes better, though.
Born on the Fourth of July (1989): A scraggly beard, vigorous yelling, and playing wheelchair-bound equals Oscar nomination. But no soul equals no Oscar win.
Days of Thunder (1990): Top Gun in a stock car. Yep, we're supposed to like stock-car racer Cole Trickle just like we're supposed to like Maverick in TG. And, yep, I still wanted to pelt Cruise with raw hamburger after enduring this two-hour beer commercial.
Interview with the Vampire (1994): Anne Rice wisely questioned early talk of the crack-smoke-induced casting of Hollywood's golden boy as the malevolent and cunning vampire Lestat (why, Neil Jordan, WHYYY?). Cruise, overzealous pleaser that he is, did everything short of lick Rice's shoes to get the author's approval. She ultimately gave him a reserved thumbs-up, which meant that either the actor's Scientologist mafia got to her, or she and director Jordan shared the same crack pipe. Earth to Hollywood: TOM CRUISE IN A BLONDE BUTT-ROCKER WIG IS NOT SCARY.
Mission Impossible (1996): Second transmission, Earth to Hollywood: TOM CRUISE IS NOT A BADASS. DO NOT CAST HIM AS ONE.
Magnolia (1999): Once again, a good director (here, Paul Thomas Anderson) harnesses Cruise's phony creepiness spot-on. Watch The Smiling Good Employee's passive-aggressive hucksterism in this sprawling but rewarding drama, then watch his Today Show interview with Matt Lauer from a few weeks ago. You'll see a direct--and unsettling--correlation. As with the other films that have used Cruise effectively, though, repeat after me: Any one of a dozen actors could have played this role better.
Vanilla Sky (2001): Haven't seen it, but I heard that at some point in the movie's running time he gets hideously disfigured. Cool.
The Last Samurai (2003): Tom Cruise does not play a conflicted ex-Civil War soldier in this earnest but just-okay period drama; he plays Tom Cruise Playing a Conflicted Ex-Civil War Soldier, which means that we see nothing of his character's insides, nor do we get the sense of him having endured hardships more substantial than a few extra days separated from shampoo and razors. So what else is new in Cruise Control?
Collateral (2004): The strangest sensation came over me as I watched this movie to while away a looong flight last year. I found myself admiring Michael Mann's direction, Jamie Foxx's solid turn as a classic Hitchcock-style Wrong Man in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time, and Stuart Beattie's lean script. But every time Cruise appeared onscreen, my attention drifted. Yeah, I get that the character is supposed to be a stealthy assassin who blends into his surroundings. But when you're using your own imagination to easily superimpose any one of a dozen better actors over Cruise's strenuous-but-still-blah performance as the movie unspools, something's seriously amiss.
This effectively leads us to 2005's War of the Worlds. No, I haven't seen it, but just based on what I know of Tom Cruise and his work, I feel a third transmission coming on:
EARTH TO HOLLYWOOD: TOM CRUISE IS NOT A REGULAR JOE. DO NOT CAST HIM AS ONE.