'Jerry Maguire' fails to make the point after Review: Awash in tears, this so-called sports movie cruises on a sea of phony emotions. This is clearly not a guy thing.

December 13, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

Here's another way they get you. Oh, it's clever. It's really clever. You watch, yeah, you watch and this'll happen.

"Honey, honey, look. There's a new sports movie out. Tom Cruise is in it. It's called 'Jerry Maguire.' It's about football. Oh, honey, you'll just love it."

And, you think, Yeah, great, a sports movie. Tom Cruise, the guy in "Top Gun." Cool. Let's go.

See, it's already out on the chick network. They already know what's going on. They have very good intelligence, I'll say that. But they're laying a trap. So let's get it out, loud and clear:

"Jerry Maguire" is not a sports movie. It's a stealth chick movie, wrapped in a swaddling of jock stuff so that it gets through guy radar without setting off the missile defenses. But believe me: It's a complete, total, 100 percent chick movie. You know: relationships. Weeping men who admit they're wrong and beg forgiveness. Women who bond. Cute little kids. Even, fer cryin' out loud, teddy bears!

The background just happens to be the big-time sports agency business, but that's window dressing whose main purpose is to provide misleading footage for the previews and the commercials. It could be about life in a hair-dressing salon!

Built around the typical generic Tom Cruise plot line of smug hotshot who gets a comeuppance, finds humility and then becomes even more successful than he was up front, the movie is a muddle inside a mess wrapped in a dither.

Cruise's animal magnetism can just get it so far, but after what feels like hour No. 3 of relationship analysis ("Are you sure you love me? Maybe you just like me, but you think you love me, but secretly you hate me because you know you're pretending to love me which is going to poison your liking for me. On the other hand, maybe "), the mind warps, the brain curdles, the sinuses clog and the consciousness turns toward: Who did the O's sign today? Or, how close will the Ravens come to winning in Carolina?

Cruise, initially, is a hotshot sports agent, charismatic and glib, oozing confidence like steamy vapors off fresh road kill on a chilly afternoon.

One night -- for reasons the script, by director Cameron Crowe, never makes remotely clear -- he sits down and writes a mission statement, a manifesto of honesty and integrity, that he then flamboyantly distributes to colleagues at his agency and, presto, is fired. Hello? Lawsuit, anybody? But he chooses not to sue and instead decides to start out on his own.

The sports stuff -- oh, about 10 percent of the movie, but by far the best -- is about his relationship with Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a shrimpy but tough wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals. Excuse me, but does anybody care about the Arizona Cardinals? They don't even care about the Arizona Cardinals in Arizona.

Anyhow, Tidwell, a great player on a minor team in a small market, is woefully underpaid, and he sticks with Cruise's Jerry Maguire in hopes of getting that big contract after a year of free agency.

The other 90 percent of the movie watches with rapt attention as Cruise sorts his values out with newcomer Renee Zellweger as Dorothy Boyd, the sole employee of his former firm who elects to go with him. This is sniffle city. This is Kleenexville. This is, "How can I be my own best friend?"

But everything about Jerry, about Dorothy, about her unbearably cute son and her unbearably overbearing sister, is unconvincing and formulaic. Its point, I suppose, is to show Cruise's humanity, his touchy-feeliness, which he demonstrates externally by crying himself a river until his nose turns the color of a satellite re-entering Earth's atmosphere, but never demonstrates internally by making us feel his emotions are anything except synthetic.

The waste of the film is that its evocations of professional sports culture and the physics of the game are so good. The bogus sports footage -- Gooding's Tidwell having the game of his life against the hated Boys of Dallas -- is extremely well done, and enough pros have been paid to hang around to give the film a sense of authority.

But so mixed up is "Jerry Maguire" that it doesn't really give us the money shot: We want to see Jerry trump his former employers and ace the beautiful ex-fiancee who called him a loser when he lost his job. Those are the simple pleasures of pulp cinema on which, boo-hoo, "Jerry Maguire" stints big time.

'Jerry Maguire'

Starring Tom Cruise

Directed by Cameron Crowe

Released by Tri-Star

Rated R

Sun score: **

Pub Date: 12/13/96

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