During that interminable period at the movies betwixt the dimming of the house lights and the appearance of the dancing popcorn, I have taken to playing a game to help pass the time. The game's objective is to guess a film's eventual Rotten Tomatoes score, based solely on the quality of its trailer. I take pride in my ability to hit pretty close to the center of the dartboard with some measure of frequency -- one of the more recent feathers in my cap being the score of 15 that I assigned to Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. (As it turned out, I was too generous. It clocked in at a 13.) Perhaps I shouldn't pat myself too much on the back for that one, though. It was pretty hard to imagine anyone not named Armond White giving a favorable write-up to that piece of Chip.
Upon viewing the trailer for Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol, I was able to formulate my Rotten Tomatoes hypothesis immediately and definitively.
"Forty," I told my viewing companion -- with as much conviction as Rafael Palmeiro at a Congressional steroid hearing.
I was certain that this thing was going to tank. I mean, OK, I had just watched a bunch of stuff blow up on screen. And, granted, it looked kind of, sort of, almost cool. Brad Bird, the visionary behind The Incredibles, was the director. And the dude from The Hurt Locker was in it. Y'know, that guy's pretty good.
But despite the fact that Ghost Protocol appeared to have all of these positive factors going for it, I remained convinced that the film was destined for the toilet. Why? Simple.
Nearly seven years have elapsed since America's most famous Scientologist turned Oprah Winfrey's couch into his personal trampoline. Since then, Cruise has been a box office loser. Save for War of the Worlds, which was released right in the middle of Cruise-mania and tallied a quarter of a billion dollars in domestic box office receipts, the four films in which he has starred have all failed to meet expectations. Only Valkyrie managed to recoup its budget in gross domestic box office, eking out a meager $8 million profit on a $75 million investment (Source: Box Office Mojo).
The critics have been lukewarm to Cruise post-couch as well. Valkyrie was received somewhat better than Lions for Lambs and Knight and Day -- both of which were panned. Mission Impossible 3 garnered many solid reviews, but most of them seemed to chalk the film's success up to director J.J. Abrams -- mentioning only in passing that Tom Cruise hadn't lost his ability to carry a blockbuster.
Based on the performance of those four films, I had absolutely no trouble proclaiming that Cruise would, once again, be fronting a turkey here. Instead, Ghost Protocol has been Cruise's first bona fide hit since his infamous Today Show sit-down with the "glib" Matt Lauer. As it closes in on a month since it opened wide, Ghost Protocol will top the $200 million mark sometime in the next few days. And as for my Rotten Tomatoes estimate: to paraphrase the great sportscaster Warner Wolf -- if you had my prediction plus 52, you lost! Ghost Protocol registered a sterling 93 percent favorability rating with the critics -- a figure that tops such Oscar hopefuls as The Descendants and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
But something strikes me as extremely odd about the Tom Cruise comeback. Why aren't we making a bigger deal about it? Americans are suckers for a good comeback story. From Bill Clinton, to Mickey Rourke to Tiger Woods, we have shown, repeatedly, a tendency to root for those trying to atone for their prior transgressions. No matter how grievous the sin, a plurality of the American populous usually ends up gravitating towards the sinner, and rooting for them to return to the pinnacle of their profession.
We've rooted for people who've committed far greater offenses than Cruise. The man committed no crime by declaring his love for Joey from Dawson's Creek (though I must admit that I was always more of a Jen guy) on The Oprah Show. It was tacky. It was over-the-top. It may or may not have been genuine. But it was not criminal.
On the vast Hollywood spectrum of crazy, Cruise hardly even registers anymore. The improbable union of TomKat (remember when that was a thing? Ugh! Shame on us.) is now entering its sixth year, having already outlasted the Kardashian-Humphries farce fifty times over. Suri Cruise turns six this April. They have managed to live under-the-radar, of late. And, by all accounts, their existence is rather stable.
So why aren't we rooting for Tom Cruise? Well, for starters, the church of Scientology has to be considered a factor. Scientology is practiced by so few people that Cruise's standing as its current poster boy makes him out of touch with the nation at large. We like to have close, personal relationships with our stars. We like to convince ourselves that they're just like us. Cruise's Scientology beliefs and practices make it hard for fans to talk themselves into thinking that he's just like them.
Beyond that, though, I'm of the opinion that Cruise is just the standard bearer for the current era of Hollywood eccentric behavior. Charlie Sheen and Kardashian cubed might have perfected the art of crazy, but it was Cruise who showed them the way.
The current state of the economy makes crazy a lot less palatable. In boom times, crazy is viewed as quirky, colorful, and unique. In austere times, crazy is viewed as wasteful and insulting. Crazy is an affront to the 9-to-5er.
It's amazing to think that Ghost Protocol represents the start of the Tom Cruise comeback, rather than its culmination. But that's exactly what it is. Nearly seven years after the diminutive Cruise put a tiny dent in Oprah's couch cushions, he is still trying to fix the much larger ones that he inflicted on his career.
If a movie that spent two weeks atop the box office and was liked by nine out of ten critics can't do it, what will?