Paramount Wasn't Tom Cruise's Boss

Tom Cruise | 'Snakes on a Plane' | Edward Norton

Cruise Fired? Paramount Wasn't His Boss

Still trying to figure out how this "Paramount Fires Tom Cruise" thing got so much play? Me, too.

For one thing, Paramount isn't the boss of Cruise. They may be upset about the numbers for "Mission: Impossible 3" not living up to expectations, but the studio has rarely been home to films starring Cruise anyway.

Indeed, Paramount was lucky that "War of the Worlds," Cruise’s most recent film prior to 'M:I3,' was his biggest ever. "War" did $234 million in the end, absolutely the best ever for a Cruise project.

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Yet most $100 million Cruise films were made — with the exception of the mystifying "Vanilla Sky" — elsewhere.

"Collateral" was Dreamworks, "Minority Report" came from 20th Century Fox, "The Last Samurai" was Warner Bros., "Eyes Wide Shut" — a huge disaster — was also from Warner’s. "Jerry Maguire," still Cruise’s best film in a decade, was at Columbia Pictures.

The Paramount production deal, which is what Cruise was “fired” from, is a different matter. As has been pointed out in trade publications, keeping Cruise and partner Paula Wagner around on the lot in case they had a good idea — at the price of $3 million a year — was a gamble that didn’t quite pay off.

Their biggest hit was "The Others," starring Tom’s just-ex, Nicole Kidman. It grossed $96 million, but for Miramax, not Paramount.

It’s hard to see why Paramount was shelling out that annual premium. Their output was slim. The non-Tom releases were Robert Towne's "Ask the Dust (which would have been a Paramount release anyway based on old relationships), "Elizabethtown" (a gift to Cameron Crowe after "Jerry Maguire" and "Vanilla Sky") and "Narc" (a not-bad idea if it had been at Miramax or Lions Gate). These movies were huge losers.

"Vanilla Sky," another loser obscured by a $100 million box office, was also theirs, and did nothing but launch the alleged romance of Cruise and Penelope Cruz.

But production deals with big stars have always been like that. They’re created for prestige, as in “We have Tom Cruise on the lot.”

They rarely work, except in the case of Clint Eastwood’s long relationship with Warner Bros. — and even now that seems slightly imperiled.

The rule is: Stars do not make good film producers. They rarely make good directors. Behind-the-scenes people do the work, and the stars take the credit.

The two big questions I keep getting not quite asked on radio shows are: Will Tom Cruise work again? And, will he make movies again?

The answer to both is yes. You cannot get rid of these people. Cruise will continue to set up deals and make his own films with himself as the star. He will not get a guaranteed back-end percentage again as he has, but he will still walk away with $20 to $25 million for each major movie.

He and Wagner will move their shingle to a new locale, probably the same place where Tom’s first deal is made, and announce one high-profile project right away.

Snakes on Jon Benet's Plane

"Snakes on a Plane," which may have been directed by someone but doesn’t look it, may be one of the worst movies ever. I finally saw it last night, and really — it’s beyond very bad.

Most of it looks like it was just on mini-DV and transferred badly to film stock. There’s no lighting to speak of at all, and the makeup — particularly Julianna Margulies’ — is terrible. The whole thing seems like a parody at first, sending up both "Airport" and "Airplane!"

Of course, "SoaP" — a great acronym because that itself was a TV satire of soap operas — will break even, make money and go on to be a cult classic. It’s the perfect DVD for late night howling.

No one, however, seems to have noticed the tie in to John Mark Karr, Jon Benet Ramsey’s alleged murderer.

Like Karr, the character played by Nathan Phillips is taken by FBI agents to his destination in a completely cleared out first-class cabin. He and the agent live it up, and Phillips’ character even says, "I’ve never flown first class before."

You can imagine the other passengers on Karr’s flight from Thailand to the States were just as angry as the passengers who angrily complain in the movie.

Phillips, by the way, makes the most innocuous debut in a major studio release since Piper Perabo in "Coyote Ugly." Expect to see him again somewhere and not care particularly.

(Runner-up for this award would be Justin Bartha, who played Jennifer Lopez’s brother in "Gigli.")

Special mention among the character actors who populate this memorably C-list cast include David Koechner as the co-pilot, Todd Louiso as the snake expert and Bobby Cannavale as the FBI agent. The three of them looked like they were trying not to crack up while delivering lines. Whoever played the air traffic control guy, by the way, was also brilliant.

Norton vs. Spielberg; The Kinks, Desperate

A movie no one in the U.S. has ever seen, called "Down in the Valley," opens in Britain this week. Edward Norton is the star, and he gave a rare interview to the London Sunday Times Magazine. In it, he uncharacteristically criticized director Steven Spielberg for his movie "Amistad."

Norton tells writer Ariel Leve: “'Amistad' bothers me a lot more than 'Troy' [as a historical document]. In a world where no significant film has been made about the slave trade, when you choose to make a film about that part of history and choose as the focus the 'Amistad' incident, which is this completely anomalous incident of strange justice, I think the burden is very heavy on you, to make sure you are not suggesting that that strange piece of justice on any kind of level redeems that history. I felt that they failed terribly in that regard.”

And wait, he really didn’t like this movie: “I remember Spike Lee saying that if he had done to 'Schindler’s List' what Spielberg did to the 'Amistad incident,' someone would have hung him from a light pole, and I agree with him. I think in a three hour film there was 15 minutes depicting the horror of the slave trade and it was the best 15 minutes of the film.”

In somewhat lighter news, "Desperate Housewives" — desperate to make a comeback this fall — is using a new version of The Kinks’ "You Really Got Me" as their promo song.

Don’t know who recorded this one, but the original stands out as the first punk single, circa 1964. And credit where credit is due: it was Dave Davies, not brother Ray, who invented that memorable opening riff. He was 16, living at home, and did it — he told me long ago — by cutting into his amp with a razor blade to create baffles. Long live Dave Davies!