By Phil Contrino
You don't need to be an industry insider to figure out that Tom Cruise is not the superstar he once was.
After committing a series of public relations disasters, Cruise has not been nearly as bankable at the box office as he once was. That fact was powerfully confirmed when Lions for Lambs, in which Cruise starred opposite Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, landed with a massive thud last November and grossed only $15 million domestically.
All hope is not lost though, because Cruise's scene-stealing role in Tropic Thunder may be going a long way toward redeeming the actor in the public eye.
Normally, yesterday's news that Paula Wagner, Cruise's longtime business partner, will be leaving United Artists and more or less ending what has been a very profitable relationship would have seemed like another nail in the actor's coffin.
Then came some good news for once.
Valkyrie, Cruise's much-delayed World War II drama about an attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler, was moved from a February 13th, 2009 release date to December 26th, 2008. While many saw the decision to push Valkyrie into 2009 as a sign of weakness, this latest decision has to be viewed as a sign of renewed confidence considering that it places the film right into the heat of Oscar season.
Is it because audiences are now laughing with Cruise instead of at him?
"The thing is that he's always had a really good sense of humor about himself," said Jenelle Riley, National Film & Television Editor for Back Stage magazine. "When you look back to the MTV Movie Awards bits that he would do with Ben Stiller, I think that's what we've been missing more with the public perception of him. He just suddenly got very serious about himself over the last couple of years."
Currently, Cruise is seriously circling two projects and at this point there is a lot riding on his every move.
First, there's Food Fight which would keep Cruise in a comedic vein by casting him as a snooty New York chef who is forced to cook in a school cafeteria. Then, there is The Tourist, which deals with the world of spies and would be a much more serious project as a result.
Weighing both options, Riley thinks it's smarter for Cruise to cast himself in a comedic light the next time around.
has a lot of potential. ... It sounds a little like it could go in that
vein, where the arrogant guy has to be redeemed and people love seeing [Cruise] like that."