Vulture takes issue with the generally promulgated notion that Tom Cruise’s cameo turn in the forthcoming Tropic Thunder is funny, but they’re on the wrong side of the fence on this one. Their main beef seems to be with the fact that Cruise — playing a foul-mouthed studio boss prone to breaking out a hip-hop hit to help underscore a point — is “yet another middle-aged actor milking yuks out of how white guys don’t know how to shake their flabby white rumps.” Yet that’s entirely not the point of his rump-shaking.
His character, Les Grossman, can dance; he does. Yes, it’s jarring, but it’s meant to be — it’s a visual counterpoint to the obscenity that he spews and crushed spirits he leaves in his wake. The subtext: here’s a guy who’s in control about being out of control. And it works. It makes him more calculated, shades and completes the portrait of shrewdness.
For Cruise, it’s also a career game-changer. Just as John Travolta, who decades earlier had memorably catapulted to fame on the strength of his Saturday Night Fever moves, reconnected with audiences in Pulp Fiction (partly) via dance, so too does Tropic Thunder help take audiences back to a time of unburdened affection for the guy — when he was just that sock-clad kid sliding across a bare wooden floor singing along to “Old Time Rock and Roll.” It’s more wild supporting turns like this one, and Magnolia, that will eventually yield Cruise his Best Supporting Actor Oscar, not any square-jawed dramatic leads in the vein of The Last Samurai.