Thomas Mapother IV is a silly bitch.
But he's also an icon for the past three American Generations and as of late, possibly one of the biggest PR blunderers in history. What images does the name Tom Cruise conjure in the past five years? Insane couch jumping? Screaming at Matt Lauer? Trapped in a closet? Similar to fellow 80s/90s heartthrob Mel Gibson, Cruise really fucked up the past decade.
Unlike Mel, who is just making Okay Movies with a renewed intense image, Tommy's been steadily and subtly re-crafting his image right under our noses for the past two years. Thus, when we're looking at Tommy, we've got three main phases:
1983 - 2004: Awesome.
Now, as we take this journey I want to remind you that when we're looking at Tom Cruise, almost all his performances from the start of his career to now are pretty solid (or at least congruent). It's not like he started making poor role choices or starting acting in Cage-caliber films, just his PR went insane.
In the 1980s however, he was an American Hero. Risky Business (1983) allowed the kid to break on to the movie scene, but Top Gun (1986) is probably still his greatest opus. For some reason I've never been able to get into Top Gun, it might be somewhere between the Pulsating Beach Volleyball scene or the fact that the coolest song on the soundtrack is Kenny Loggins but somehow I've just always been a bit thrown off. Fighter jets are fucking awesome though and the masculinity on display gave Tommy an action career for the next twenty-five years (and counting).
After this for a while we've basically got the two Toms - the action hero and the dramatic actor, with a couple bizarre vampire and bartender films strewn about. Both of these dual roles came to a fever in 1996 with Mission: Impossible and Jerry Maguire. Maguire is still one of the best 90s classics and one of the closest he'll ever get to Oscar. The original Mission: Impossible has developed into his signature franchise (with a bullshit second, critically and commercially successful third installment and an upcoming fourth by an Academy-Award winning director). With these joints Tommy simultaneously became the American action hero counterpart to a slew of Bond films that were regaining popularity mid-decade as well as widely acknowledged as a mainstream highly talented actor.
After this he's got the two mindfuck pics in Magnolia (1999) and Vanilla Sky (2001) then three solid appearances in action films with large doses of drama (Minority Report , The Last Samurai  and Collateral ). All three of these could be considered some of the best of the past decade (Minority Report for sure). Especially when Tom busted out of the smirking hero character with Collateral to pretty decent effort he really should have been considered one of the most enigmatic, charismatic and talented actors of our time.
2005 - 2007: Shitty
Soon after, all this weird stuff started happening around Tommy. Read: Every recent image of Tom that first pops in your head happened. He was suddenly madly in love with Katie Holmes, seemingly more so to promote his films than to express puppy love (c'mon dude you were 42). More than anything though, which somehow the creators of South Park seemed to catch on to, he started being really really open with Scientology.
If there's any doubt in your mind anywhere, please know that Scientology is an absolute cult religion that relies on teams of lawyers and intimidation to protect its public image at all costs. Any read into their operations should immediately generate the most ridiculously immoral findings you could imagine, although it's shocking mainly because it was largely covered up successfully for the first forty or so years of its operation.
Scientology primarily targets celebrities because A) L. Ron Hubbard suggested it as a way to allow its public image to soften with free endorsement and B) its nature caters to very selfish people, there's no guilt over being special or wealthy in Scientology, its practice is specifically driven by flooding ego in its doctrine. Of all the celebrities in the past decade though, no Scientologist has been at the forefront like Tommy has.
At the height of his American Iconic Status either due to Publicist mistakes or whatever, we started seeing layers of Tommy peeled back and this insane, insane man emerging underneath. It's funny how celebrities let us down. I don't understand why we adore them so much, I mean there's entire channels devoted to following their lives. Thus when we started seeing our icon making these frighteningly ignorant statements about anti-depressants, initiating verbal arguments with fellow celebrities and getting pissy at British Water Gun Interviewers, we freak out. I mean, look at the amount of Tommy that penetrated Pop Culture mid-decade.
Fuck, Tom, just talk about how much War of the Worlds (2005) sucked because Robbie lived.
2008 - Present: Awesome
There seemed like there was this pretty huge valley for Tommy to climb out of now. America's darling fallen into a pretty big shitpile. The only real way out was to do something so entirely outrageous and out of carefully crafted character, something so impossibly Tom Cruise that he basically won back our hearts from the bottom up.
Enter Les Grossman.
Really a mere side character in the ridiculously character'd and cameo'd Tropic Thunder (2008) this somehow got Tommy his first Golden Globe nomination in five years as well as a whole lot more interest in his career. It played against type so well that we lost the Tom Cruise part of him. This was necessary - the Tom Cruise of late is that image again - the Couch Jumping Fuckhead. Since his face is so recongisable, he needed to be in complete disguise to reestablish his Iconic credentials. Les Grossman is an absolutely brilliant PR move. In the past two years although he was still scoffed for Valkyrie (2008), certainly less so than Mission: Impossible III (2006) which was a far superior movie that audiences avoided because of his PR jumbles.
With a much more careful eye then we may understand perfectly the reasoning behind Les Grossman "producing" the 2010 MTV Movie Awards. Tom Cruise has a new movie coming out today. What's the only likable bankable character he's done in the past five years? Fuck yeah. This is the megastar coming down a few levels. Tom's showing he has a sense of humour, he can laugh at himself and isn't afraid to look fat and silly. This is the exact opposite of that Water Gun Interview. It's his 360. It's his attempt to get back his American Icon Status. Right in time for his next summer blockbuster.
So boom. Knight and Day (2010) comes out today. Tom's back in smiling funny action mode and there's less talk of avoiding this because Tom's Crazy than there's talk of avoiding it because it looks stupid. If a movie can cripple itself on those merits then Tommy's heading in the right direction. It actually doesn't look that terrible, certainly more interesting than Killers (2010) (by the way, what the fuck is this a Dante's Peak / Volcano  deal?). So we'll see if this can truly be the film to restore faith in Tommy's Career.