Okay, forget that whole Sharon Waxman-suggested scenario about Paramount chairman Brad Grey hesitating about bankrolling Mission Impossible 3 because of…well, Waxman vaguely implies this is due to concerns or at least questions about Tom Cruise’s recent oddball behavior. A seriously informed source says the reason why an un-named Viacom executive told Waxman that “no definitive decision has been made” about M:I3 is because of…ready to be surprised?…Cruise’s deal. Specifically, his “massive and unreasonable” back-end deal, which is around 30% of the first dollar. (He doesn’t take upfront cash.) With the budget of M:I3 pushing toward $180 million (yup, that’s what I’m hearing) and with a first-time director (J.J. Abrams), Grey and Co. aren’t anxious to pay off a monster-sized deal that was made by Par’s previous regime. “And they really will pull the plug if need be, or so goes the talk,” my guy says. If you really want to get tricky about it, I guess the Cruise-acting-slightly-wacko theory plays into Par’s court because the more this viewpoint gets around, the weaker or less together Cruise appears to gossip hounds as well as certain Scientology-dissers in the press, which eventually seeps down to the Average Joe’s and translates into a general lowering of Cruise’s stock due to everyone going “what’s up with this fucking guy?” and this, finally, bounces back into Cruise’s corner and his agents have to lower his price because their client has backed them into a corner without a strong hand to play.
What I’m not quite understanding from the various has-Tom-Cruise-gone-crazy? pieces, and particularly from Sharon Waxman’s report in today’s (6.2) New York Times, is why, exactly, Paramount Pictures is apparently re-thinking its support of Cruise’s Mission Impossible 3. As Waxman points out, many millions have already been spent on the action thriller, the total estimated M:I3 budget is around $150 million, and the projected start date is July 18. And yet Paramount chairman Brad Grey is seemingly reluctant to give a final green-light. This conclusion hinges on a quote from an executive with Viacom, Paramount’s parent company, telling Waxman that “no definitive decision has been made…it’s a discussion.” Okay, but why? Cruise’s recently eccentric, unusually passionate behavior (stronger-than-normal Scientology advocacy, a relationship with Katie Homes that no one believes is real, jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch) is playing so oddly that Paramount is sensing some kind of flame-out? They’re fearful that maybe the public is cooling on Cruise a tiny bit? They’re starting to see him as a bit less of a slick actor-producer-breadwinner and bit more of a spectacle unto himself and therefore less of a solid commercial contender? I’m not saying Cruise is edging into Michael Jackson territory — I’m just trying to divine what’s being implied by these stories. (Richard Corliss’ take in Time is another one.) Some might say this turn was inevitable when Cruise decided to hand p.r. duties over to his sister, LeAnne Devette, who is heavily supportive of Scientology herself and therefore less circumspect and less neutrally professional about handling Cruise, Inc. than Cruise’s former handler, PMK/HBH’s Pat Kingsley, might have been if Cruise hadn’t let her go. Something tells me if Kingsley were running the show right now, there wouldn’t be this media atmosphere swirling around…even if doesn’t make a lot of sense. Par’s War of the Worlds is going to do massive business, the last two Mission Impossible films were cash cows, and Cruise has always been a methodical, hard-nosed pro who gets movies made smartly, on-time and on-budget so…I don’t get it. Theories and speculation are welcome.