I love Tom Cruise movies. With the exception of Cocktail (too goofy), A Few Good Men (too boring), Interview With the Vampire (too many blouses), Born On The Fourth of July (too much acting) and Days of Thunder (too much NASCAR), I’ll watch almost anything he has done and enjoy it. I especially like his action movies like Mission Impossible (take your pick), Minority Report and even Jack Reacher. And Risky Business has a special place in my heart (I grew up in the 1980s after all).
But my wife and I recently sat down and watched Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, and l found myself laughing at it, not because it was a comedy (it wasn’t), but because it was d-u-m-b dumb. Tom Cruise is such a big star in Hollywood that he has complete control over any project that he appears in, and that’s the biggest reason I like his films: I’m fairly certain that Tom and I have a similar taste in movies. But Never Go Back had more plot holes than an episode of Scooby-Doo and a script that could have been written on a Post-It note.
It felt like Tom made the movie without any help, like he set the cameras up, yelled “action” at himself, then ad-libbed through the scenes in one take without any input from a director or even a cinematographer. Clearly there was nobody around to say things like “Tom, I’m not sure it makes sense that the police will call that pay phone and warn the crooks before they storm the scene” or “Tom, if you jumped off that building you would be dead.” If you thought Ocean’s Eleven was just an excuse for George Clooney and Brad Pitt to go on vacation together (it looks like they are struggling to keep a straight face during every scene), it’s stinking Citizen Kane compared to Never Go Back.
In fact, I think that Tom’s unilateral approach to filmmaking is what sank this movie. It’s dangerous to assume you know what your audience wants, and a little help never hurts. We see it once in a while in marketing, too: a business that has been appealing to their loyal consumers for so long that they begin to take them for granted. It’s like Tom has a checklist of things that have worked in the past (Car chase? Got it. Squinting? Check. Karate-chop running? They love it.) but hasn’t really paid attention to whether his audience still wants those things.
Don’t get me wrong, it still makes me smile when he tells some muscle-bound, six-foot-three actor who is standing in a hole in the stage “I’m going to break your arm” and then does it, but it needs to make at least a little bit of sense in the context of the movie. When it comes to your product, you can’t simply repeat yourself and assume that your fans will approve.
In the branding business, we address this problem with something called “account planning.” It’s when we do our homework about the target audience. We start with what the client tells us, then we fill in the rest of the picture with information from other sources, including the customers themselves. That way we can craft our messages with a complete picture of the target audience instead of just a list of things that seem to have worked in the past.
Tom Cruise needs an account planner. I’m his target audience, but I’m not sure he and I are on the same page anymore after seeing Never Go Back. I like my action movies somewhere between the meathead cacophony of Michael Bay and the ponderous meandering of Christopher Nolan, but I still want a little variety, not a sequel that looks like it is made entirely out of outtakes from the original.
I’ll give you one more chance, Tom, then you and I are finished. Don’t let me down.