Hollow in the Middle

'Minority Report' has plenty of action and eye-candy but lacks depth and vision.

It's about time that someone made a movie about Tom Cruise's arms, or, as I like to call them, "America's sinewy treasures." While ostensibly a story about a society that gives up privacy in exchange for safety (timely, eh?), Minority Report is really the movie we've all been waiting for, the one in which Tom Cruise spends most of his time in a skin-tight black tanktop.

So, let me get right to the question everyone is asking: Do Tom Cruise's arms live up to the hype? Excuse me, but is Al-Qaida evil? Yes, they live up to the hype. The shoulders would make Atlas jealous, the biceps are like delicious mounds of god-flesh, and the forearms could turn John Wayne gay.

Which is interesting, because in this film soi-disant heterosexual Cruise doesn't have a female love interest, instead being dedicated to his macho job and the memory of his dead six-year-old son.

Cruise is a cop, that most Tom-of-Finland-esque job, and he really dresses the part, with the full black sado-suit and a menacing electrified prod that juts out when needed for action. However, he is not an ordinary officer of the law, but rather the head of the Washington, D.C. "pre-crime" unit, which, in the year 2054, employs the services of three "pre-cogs" who can see crimes before they happen.

The tables are turned on pretty-boy Cruise when the pre-cogs see him committing a crime, and blah blah blah. You know, he runs, they chase him, high-tech things happen in a futuristic setting where a falsely accused cop must avoid capture long enough to clear his name. Same old plot, brand new super-cars and jet packs.

Of course, jet pack and super-cars don't grow on trees, so director Steven Spielberg, always the pragmatist, has put more advertising in this movie than you'd find in 10 Super Bowls. Part of this is that he wanted to show a future that was riddled with talking billboards and privacy-invading commercials, but he could have done that with fake products ... that's what Paul Verhoeven did in his brilliant RoboCop, and it works amazingly well there, because he's then in a position to mock the advertising.

In Minority Report Spielberg can't really make critical commentary on the products, since they're real and the real companies paid him good money (according to Daily Variety, $25 million) to advertise them in the film. So, every 10 minutes Cruise looks at his Bulgari watch as he buys chic clothes at the Gap while eating Ben and Jerry's ice cream. The intrusiveness of the advertising does seem to be a theme of the film, and the fact that each ad is capable of recognizing a viewer by means of retinal scans, and targeting the advertising towards that viewer, shows the commercialized lack of privacy in this future world.

But the products themselves remain untouched by critical commentary, because, well, the makers paid Spielberg a lot of money to keep his mouth shout and just hawk their goods. Not that there's anything wrong with being a whore, but Spielberg, starting with the Reeses Pieces placement in E.T., has taken it to the extreme of swallowing instead of spitting.

Which is why I always find it odd that Spielberg is so anxious to be taken seriously as a filmmaker. Basically, he makes dopey action films for the masses, and then every few years he makes a movie without dinosaurs in it, and for that he expects critics to kiss his butt.

Still, in spite of his inability to make a "smart" movie, Spielberg is a master director, and, when he's not trying too hard to convince you that he's not an idiot, he can really make an entertaining film. Minority Report comes partly from the "see how smart I am" Spielberg, but mostly it comes from the "I need bigger exploding dinosaurs" Spielberg, so it's a decent way to pass a couple of hours in an air-conditioned theater.

It's also reasonably nice to look at, being shot by Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg's standard cinematographer. Kaminski is much like Spielberg, and, in fact, much like Tom Cruise's arms: He's showy and technically flawless, but lacking in subtlety and vision. Still, the grainy, blue-tinted imagery is a decent enough Blade Runner swipe, and fits the overall "I'm pretending to be gritty but I'm really being pretty" mood of the film.

As stipulated in his contract, though, the prettiest thing of all in Minority Report is Tom Cruise. Not only is Cruise getting prettier as he gets older, his acting is improving too. Of course, it's not hard to improve the taste of a crap sandwich, but still, he's far less annoying than he once was, and his acting never gets in the way of the story. On the whole, Minority Report is a diverting, if a bit empty, project, and one that I hopes signals a new phase in Spielberg's career, a phase in which he can sublimate his pretensions while sticking to what he does best: making eye-candy for a sweets-starved nation.

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