In a perfect future world, all movie remakes will be outlawed. Since such a statute is unfortunately not yet on the books, audiences must still endure self-indulgent messes like Vanilla Sky. This is a film that achieves what some would have thought impossible – taking Alejandro Amenabar’s 1997 feature Open Your Eyes (Abre los Ojos) and reshaping it into a form even more obtuse and insufferable. At best a fawning mash note from Cameron Crowe to Tom Cruise, it’s perhaps the most curious remake since ABC-TV decided to "update" Brian’s Song.
David (Cruise) is a hotshot magazine publisher who never likes to be seen dating the same woman twice. At his birthday party he meets and falls for Sofia (Penelope Cruz, reprising her role from the original film), spending a soulful but chaste night at her apartment. This infuriates Julie (Cameron Diaz), David’s previous bedmate, who drives up after David leaves Sofia’s apartment and offers him a ride. A ride off a bridge, actually – as Julie’s more than a bit miffed that David would dare to see someone else. The resulting crash kills Julie and leaves David horribly disfigured. The story then jumps to a masked David being questioned by a prison psychiatrist (Kurt Russell) about a murder that David insists never took place.
At this point pencils and scorecards may be required to keep track of the plot, which then advances without much order or logic, sporadically intercutting flashbacks and dream sequences. Freshman Rhetoric 101 teaches to never end a story with "But it was all just a dream", but Vanilla Sky uses this device about ten seconds into the film and then reprises it so often that after about an hour of being whipsawed around most will give up on trying to figure things out.
Writer/director Crowe’s screenplay is quite faithful to the original story, but he makes a confusing story even more so by committing the other Freshman Rhetoric 101 cardinal sin of telling, not showing. He adds explanatory material not present in the original version that oddly serves to perplex and obscure. This occurs several times, but most annoyingly during a long-winded monologue at the film’s conclusion that attempts to finally explain everything but serves only to raise more questions than it answers.
In rewriting the script, Crowe bears full responsibility for two of the most laughably bad lines of dialog in recent cinema:
Throughout all the confusion Crowe throws in random stylistic touches that teasingly appear to be significant but turn out to be just thin icing on a rather stale cake. In typical Crowe fashion soundtrack songs are shamelessly used as patching material for gaping story transitions and to cue emotions on demand. He never passes up an opportunity to show a close-up of Cruise and just about every character in the film is shown in awe of David.
Cruise mostly sleepwalks (pun intended) though his role, and during the scenes where David is disfigured shows that without his patented smile/smirk in his arsenal he’s one very limited actor indeed. Penelope Cruz is asked to do little more than appear gorgeous and/or mysterious, and again demonstrates that English is not her native tongue; her singsong delivery wrings the meaning out of most of her lines.
By Vanilla Sky’s end, a number of questions still remain. Is David crazy? Is he dreaming? Is he a murderer – and if so, who did he really kill? But most viewers will only be asking either "Who cares?" or "Why didn’t I go with the kids to see Harry Potter again?"
– Bob Aulert