Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hedging their bets on Cruise

Tom Cruise is in the midst of a comeback.

It's as close to indisputable fact as you can get. His last drama (Valkyrie) was a critical and commercial success. His last -- first? -- comedy (Tropic Thunder) was a critical and commercial success, demonstrating a shrewd knack for the kind of stunt casting that might jump-start his career. But the best indication of a return to business as usual is that Cruise has been inked to appear in Mission Impossible 4 -- which once itself seemed like an impossible mission, given that Paramount dumped him shortly after the release of Mission Impossible III in 2006.

And of course, Knight and Day, in which he co-stars with Cameron Diaz, hits theaters today. However, 20th Century Fox doesn't seem to have gotten the memo that it's okay to get behind Cruise again.

The PR campaign for Knight and Day is a study in half measures. There have been plenty of TV ads, and quite naturally, Cruise has been front and center in them. But one look at that poster above -- kind of a hybrid of a James Bond opening credits sequence, and the ipod campaign circa 2008 -- and you can tell something's amiss.

Where are the faces of the actors?

It's only natural, when you're promoting a movie with such big stars as Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, that you would want the public to see their faces on the poster. But not here. Their names are ginormous -- as big as the title, and the title is pretty big -- but their faces are conspicuously absent. The result is a bland poster that neither says anything specific about the movie, nor features the stars that are going to attract audiences. Because let's be honest -- there's nothing high-concept about Knight and Day. It's a star-driven movie, pure and simple.

It's as if Fox is saying, "We want to remind you that Cruise is in it -- but not too much." It's as if seeing his name will affect you only on an abstract, indirect level -- whereas seeing his face gives you too intimate a reminder why you stopped liking him.

In fact, with all the ways they've shot the advertising in the foot -- including a terrible title -- I'm surprised that I actually sort of want to see this movie. Why? Well, because of Tom Cruise.

Watching the trailers for Knight and Day -- which are certainly the best facet of its ad campaign -- I've realized that I welcome the return of Cruise in a cheeky action movie. There's been a void in my soul since the last one, four long years ago with Mission Impossible III. And that one wasn't even very cheeky. Maybe Cruise has never made an action movie this cheeky, and maybe that's why I'm sort of excited for it. He's charismatic, he's got a ready smile, and maybe the fact that he isn't taking himself too seriously looks good on him. That was one of the biggest benefits of the Cruise we saw in Tropic Thunder -- he was willing to tear down his own image (wearing a bald cap and an extra 70 pounds around the waistline) to build it back up. And though that could just be a hardcore strategic ploy, I'll be charitable to him and say that it was just a case of having fun with himself and hoping it reflected well on him. It did.

Whether 20th Century Fox was right to be skeptical about Cruise's influence on their movie will play itself out over the course of the five-day weekend, which they've given this movie by releasing it on a Wednesday. And you can read either positive or negative things into that as well. Usually, a studio releases a movie on Wednesday when it feels very confident in it, and wants to extend the opening weekend by a few days to make the Sunday night total look more impressive. However, that could also be viewed as a defense mechanism -- give it a few extra days so that the people who aren't analyzing things very closely will think it stacked up well against the movies that were released on Friday. But which careless box office analysts, who just fell off the turnip truck yesterday, would that be?

Like almost every other typical summer release that has come out so far this year, I probably won't catch it in the theater. That way, I'll have a bunch of stupid popcorn movies to watch this fall, when I have a crying baby and can't make it out to the theater anyway.


Mike Lippert said...

This reminds me of the trailers for both Match Point and the Inside Man, two trailers that wanted to tell everything except who the director's were. Maybe it paid off in both cases?

Vancetastic said...

The even more egregious example of burying Woody Allen's name was in the ads for Anything Else.

Mike Lippert said...

Yes it is one thing to take the man's name off the film, but to not even let you know he's in it, even though he's basically the funniest part?