Early fall is typically a dead time at the movies. So now that Tom Cruise’s latest vehicle is no longer showing, your Webb critic offers a few of the actor’s other titles to tide you over till Kenneth Branagh’s “Haunting in Venice,” Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” and Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” later this year.
While my specialty is “under the radar” films, that does not apply to all these selections; I simply picked some that might not instantly come to mind if you cruise for Cruise.
“Taps” (1981) – Good-not-great drama about a group of cadets who seize control of their military academy to prevent it from closing. With veteran George C. Scott in the cast, it also features a youthful quartet of Cruise, Sean Penn, Giancarlo Esposito and Timothy Hutton — though at the time, Hutton was the most famous of these!
Another “before-we-knew-them” entry from the same era is 1983’s “The Outsiders,” with a future-famous cast including Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe and of course Cruise; but this didn’t make my official list of offerings here — because its sloppy script does not do justice to S. E. Hinton’s much-stronger novel.
“The Others” (2001) – Cruise did not star in this excellent ghost-story — but he exec-produced it for his then-wife Nicole Kidman. She brings her usual nuanced authenticity to a troubled single mother living with her kids in a remote island mansion, which she must keep dark because both of the children are over-sensitive to light. I won’t say more about the plot, except that this movie is atmospheric and genuinely creepy with almost no bloodshed; and like most ghost stories, it has a killer ending.
“Minority Report” (2002) – Directed by Spielberg and based on a story by sci-fi guru Philip K. Dick (“Blade Runner,” “Total Recall”), this philosophical actioner made a ton of money, though it seems a lot of people have yet to see it.
Folks, this is a virtually perfect film: a seamless blend of excitement, family drama, murder mystery, speculative sci-fi and brain-bending intellectual challenge: What if a crime agency could foresee when murder was about to occur? Would it be fair to arrest and imprison a predicted “killer” who has not actually done the deed? And what if the chief of that agency (Cruise) was himself suddenly pegged as the next perpetrator? Well, he would go on the lam — because, as he himself so aptly says, “Everybody runs.”
Strong cast includes Colin Farrell, Max Von Sydow, Neal McDonough, Tim Blake Nelson and Samantha Morton.
“Collateral” (2004) – Film fans will recognize the name Michael Mann, who always gets it done — whether exec-producing TV’s “Miami Vice” or directing top-tier titles such as “Thief,” “Heat,” “Last of the Mohicans,” the sadly neglected “Manhunter” and this gripping noir thriller about a taxi driver (Jamie Foxx) and his slick, enigmatic passenger (Cruise), who turns out to be a professional killer executing a five-hit job in one night. And he insists on Foxx’s very unwilling assistance! Solid cast includes Mark Ruffalo, Jada Pinkett Smith and, in a small early role, Javier Bardem. Dark, well directed and dandy.
“Tropic Thunder” (2008) – I haven’t seen this popular satire about a film crew on a jungle-set Vietnam movie who suddenly have to start fighting for real. Directed by Ben Stiller — who also stars — it features Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Nick Nolte and Matthew McConaughey, with Cruise playing against type as a vituperative studio exec with very little hair and even less charisma.
“Knight and Day” (2010) – Directed by James Mangold (“3:10 to Yuma,” “Ford v. Ferrari,” “Indiana Jones 5”), this action-comedy gets away with its over-the-top hijinks by playing them for laughs. Cruise is Roy Miller, another of his can-do heroes, here hopelessly entangled with a ditzy innocent bystander (Cameron Diaz) in a series of crazier-by-the-minute escapades. Co-starring Paul Dano, Viola Davis, a handsome Orient Express — and one genuinely worthwhile McGuffin.
“Edge of Tomorrow” (2014) – Another box-office hit and another slam-bang sci-fi actioner, this is among the best of the many “time loop tales” that have been so popular of late. In a film that’s been unofficially renamed “Live. Die. Repeat.,” Cruise plays a soldier in a futuristic war who keeps dying and coming back to life with more and more knowledge of how to defeat the aliens. Co-starring a fine Emily Blunt (really, is there anything this woman cannot do?), plus Brendan Gleeson and the much-missed Bill Paxton.
Since 2015, there’s been serious talk of a sequel, but at the moment it is still bogged down in details.
Oh, well — there’s always “Mission: Impossible 8.”