The older I get the less interested I am in grandiosity and spectacle, especially in movies. I don’t do superheroes, and my appetite for overwrought fantasy, sci-fi, or anything to do with deep space is negligible.
I respond to films with human actors wearing regular clothes, not chainmail or Kevlar supersuits, and I’m wary of time travel, precognition, and necromancy, though I would definitely watch a Jimmy Page biopic about the guitarist’s time in a Scottish mansion linked to beheadings and hauntings.
Just give me a story that’s well told. Lately, my wife and I have been bingeing the minimalist films of director Kelly Reichardt, and while I’m sure some people consider “Old Joy,” “First Cow,” and “Showing Up” to be painfully humdrum, I find their inertness exquisite.
But I’m not a total bore. There is one brand of blockbuster I’ll still go to a cineplex to see, no matter how preposterous or vertigo-inducing, and that’s any big-budget extravaganza starring Tom Cruise.
It’s fashionable to make fun of the Tom Cruiseness of Tom Cruise — his hyper earnestness and intensity, his audacious commitment to doing his own crazy stunts — but I’m a sucker for it. Four decades after he slid across the floor in his socks and undies in “Risky Business,” Cruise remains a full-on movie star, an old-style screen idol of a sort that doesn’t exist much anymore.
I’m part of the Tom Cruise backlash backlash, I guess. His quirks — the unsettling allegiance to the cult of Scientology, the aerobic outburst on Oprah’s couch, the reluctance to engage with the media — have done little to diminish, for me at least, Cruise’s uncommon appeal on the big screen. (I’m still adjusting to the contours of his new face.) So, last week, while everyone else was in line to see “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” I stretched my legs in one of AMC’s Signature Recliners at Assembly Row to watch Ethan Hunt defy death yet again in “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One.”
It’s a long title, which is apt for a movie that churns with car chases and knife fights for nearly three hours. I don’t do anything as intensely as Tom Cruise runs, and he runs a lot in the new “Mission: Impossible.” If he isn’t clinging to the side of a speeding train, free-falling from 20,000 feet, or careening — backward — down the Spanish Steps in a rickety old Fiat, the 61-year-old actor is in a perpetual sprint.
I have no idea why I enjoy watching Tom Cruise run, but I do. It feels old-fashioned, and a little funny. In an era when so many movies wow audiences with weaponry and elaborate CGI, it’s quaint to see Cruise in a tailored suit and expensive shoes hurtling through an airport unarmed. Like Cary Grant, who couldn’t outrun the crop duster in “North by Northwest,” Cruise doesn’t win every foot race, but it’s amusing to watch him try.
I’m not arguing that Cruise is a brilliant, one-of-a-kind actor or that all of his movies are great. They aren’t — have you seen “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” “Rock of Ages,” or, ugh, “The Mummy” reboot? After 50-plus films, Cruise is still a mystery to me. The guy’s a ghost. He seems to exist only to thrill theatergoers, to ride souped-up motorcycles, climb skyscrapers, and hold his breath. (I nearly passed out just watching the underwater sequence in “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.”)
I also appreciate that Cruise cares more than most in Hollywood about the experience of seeing a movie. After “Top Gun: Maverick” wrapped in the early days of the pandemic, the finished film sat on a shelf for nearly two years because its hero wanted people to watch in a theater instead of streaming on the small screen. That proved to be smart; not only did “Maverick” gross more than $1 billion, but its rollout is widely credited with encouraging the public to return to movie theaters.
At a February luncheon for Oscar nominees — “Maverick” was up for best picture — director Steven Spielberg, who’d worked with Cruise on “Minority Report” and “War of the Worlds,” was overheard telling the actor “you saved Hollywood’s ass and you might have saved theatrical distribution.” (More recently, Cruise has been the highest-profile actor to participate in a negotiating session between the studios and SAG-AFTRA, the union representing striking actors.)
Of all the roles Cruise has played, he might take his job as world’s most enduring movie star the most seriously. Remember in 2020, when audio leaked from the overseas set of “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One”? In the clip, an irate Cruise can be heard berating crew members for breaking social-distancing protocols.
“They’re back there in Hollywood making movies right now because of us!” Cruise yells through a mask. “Because they believe in us and what we’re doing . . . We are creating thousands of jobs, you [expletive]! That’s what I sleep with every night: the future of this [expletive] industry!”
Cruise sounds exactly like the sort of character he’s famous for playing: intense and determined. Maybe he’s got his foot on the gas all the time — 24/7 Cruise control! When “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part Two” arrives in theaters next year, I know where I’ll be: in that vinyl recliner at Assembly Row watching Cruise run, or ride, like his life depends on it.