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A Sane Tom Cruise? A Sane New Year!

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I have browsed the relevant entrails, and it will be an amusing if shallow year. In particular, I have weighed the Mayan prophecy of the Unrapture against a countervailing but potent sign: the mental health of Tom Cruise. No, I cannot verify that he has become a well-adjusted human being, but Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol -- which ought by rights to be incoherent franchise fodder -- is a surprisingly sane vehicle for a miraculously sane Tom.

It's worth pondering the trajectory, the career arc of the Cruise missile. Tom emerged from the silo an almost perfect American archetype: in Risky Business, he was The Boy. The Boy. Every teenager in the nation, whether a nascent news anchor or a budding serial killer, imagined that he was Tom Cruise. Wanted to be Tom Cruise. Was, in fact, Tom Cruise. He was cool, but nobody knew this yet: He was on the verge of cool. He was a decent kid, but in fact capable of suave, acceptable delinquency; nobody knew this yet either. All it would take to establish these facts would be Rebecca De Mornay, a Whore With a Heart of Gold (and none of the attributes of an actual hooker).

That was Tom as we first met him: a catcher in the rye with perfect shades and a perfect glove, catching every kid waddling cliff-ward towards the abyss of uncool.

Then there was Tom the soaring Reagan-Era Warrior: wildly unrealistic, but uplifting in a Reagan/fiction sort of way. You won't convince me that Top Gun was anything but jingoistic dreck, but who am I to pronounce? Clearly it tattooed itself on the forehead of a nation. Tom was the guy who, flying upside down, gave the finger to a commie MiG pilot. Who wouldn't want to flip off a MiG? (Just as who wouldn't want to be liberating death camps while safe in Hollywood?)

Fast forward to Tom, the loose canon, the scourge of sofas. Wild Tom, bouncing on Oprah's couch, pledging heterosexuality in a way that heterosexuals so rarely do. It was inspiring. If you were out of your fucking mind.

And then the Dianetically demented nosedive from couch to B-list.

Add the well-established fact that the first Mission Impossible was Brian de Palma at his most Alan Smithee, and the second was John Woo on brown acid. By MI3, Tom had become so peculiar that I was unwilling to pay for a ticket to spend quality time with him. All of this, to an oracle of my rare sensibilities, portended one thing: that the fourth Mission Impossible would be among the very weirdest and worst films ever made.

Yet Tom Cruise, actor and producer, has somehow emerged shiny, palatable, and compos mentis for the year 2012. The groundhog has seen his shadow, and it's nowhere near as scary as that shadow was last year (the looming Jungian Shadow of cult-induced psychosis). The film is sound, psychologically, from its politics to its cinematography to its wardrobe. Even the post-Cold-War paranoia is of a flavour that we can only call normal: This isn't the reeling terror of Fail-Safe, for the simple reason that Putin is only a modestly homicidal guy who likes cute animals, as opposed to Khrushchev.

Tom nails it. His Ethan Hunt, a self-deprecating but utterly heroic leader among other self-deprecating heroes, is the person we all want to be. He has a sense of humour. Girls really like him. He can scale skyscrapers in Dubai.

I cannot vouch for his input as producer, but I like to think he had something to do with the wild, accelerating pace of this thing: a bit like the cartoon that introduced Roger Rabbit, but with more Dubai. There are a number of cartoon tropes here (helps that the director, Brad Bird, cut his teeth in Toontown): The bodies of mortal heroes get battered even more than usual, but there's recognition of the fact that miraculous healthcare is required to patch them up. Sometimes you need a Band-Aid to repair those multiple fractures.

The architecture, as always in cartoons, rocks. If you were feeling briefly pretentious, you could note that rarely has the skyscraper been examined planimetrically as it is in this flick: We really get to think about what that tall building in Dubai looks like to the desert falcons. But enough: this isn't Antonioni. It's Cruise. (In truth, the film is not so much meditation as product placement: a deliberate bid to grant iconic status to SOM's Burj Khalifa tower. Tom wears his third hat here: iconic dangling ape.)

As far as cartoons go, I could have done without Anil Kapoor's oleaginous Bollywood playboy -- reminiscent of the haute racism of vintage Looney Tunes -- but the other stock characters are worthy. The motor-mouthed Simon Pegg is the perfect babbling sidekick, aspiring nervously to the poise and heroism of Tom. Jeremy Renner threatens to give the film some depth, but luckily doesn't quite succeed. With his Byronic secret, he broods a bit more than you'd like a cartoon to brood. But Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol is never really in danger of becoming The Hurt Locker. It's just too gloriously dumb.

And what would be the spy toon be without the perfectly turned out, utterly chill sexpot, fully capable of kicking ass most righteously when required? We in fact get two of them (hence an inevitable catfight): one French and evil, with an insatiable lust for diamonds; the other patriotic and virtuous, with a satiable lust for revenge. Am I the only one who thinks that Paula Patton looks like a female version of the Rock? I'm probably the only one who doesn't consider that necessarily a bad thing. Here you should question not so much my sexual orientation, as my taste and sanity.

Which brings us back to the important message here, disguised as a film review: Tom Cruise has become sane, and this is a sign from the gods. Lo, he has produced a sane entertainment, and starred in it with great sanity. The year 2012 -- which those who channel Mayans for a living tell us will be truly incomprehensible and unpleasant -- will be nothing of the sort: It's going to make sense. And it's going to be a blast.

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