October 25, 2014

Open Your Eyes (1997)
Grade: 50/100

Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Stars: Eduardo Noriega, Penélope Cruz, Chete Lera

What it's about. A Matrix-like movie set in Spain and filmed in Spanish. César (Eduardo Noriega) is a wealthy young playboy. Pelayo (Fele Martínez) is his somewhat less fortunate best friend.

César begins an affair with Nuria (Najwa Nimri), a lithe, forward, and intense woman obsessed with her new partner. But he is more interested in Pelayo's new girlfriend Sofía (Penélope Cruz), a nice hottie whose unusual hobby is performing as a mime in the park.

Nuria doesn't like the supposedly handsome César's attentions to Sofía, so she attempts to murder him via a car crash. César recovers physically, but his face is disfigured and he is traumatized.

Increasingly bizarre scenes follow. The good news is that he recovers his looks and has a sexual encounter with a topless Sofía. The bad news is that he murders her (or is it Nuria?) and ends up in a prison for the criminally insane.

There, he meets Antonio (Chete Lera), a psychiatrist fascinated by César's dreams. He helps César unravel the mystery of his life, or, more accurately, non-life.

Remade four years later in Hollywood as Vanilla Sky, starring Tom Cruise but keeping Cruz as the love interest. The two were also a romantic item during the window between Cruise's marriages to Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes.

How others will see it. Science fantasy plots are a proven box office winner and audience pleaser. Cruz is a significant draw, particularly since she briefly sheds her clothing. Amenábar is among the most commercially successful Spanish directors ever, although we much prefer Luis Buñuel.

Open Your Eyes was a great commercial success, and it garnered ten nominations at the 1999 Goya Awards, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor. Fortunately, it lost in all categories, although Cruz won Best Actress for a different movie.

The movie was ignored by the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, but is nonetheless popular in America. It has 46K user votes at imdb.com and a fairly lofty user rating of 7.8. Message board chatter mostly compares the movie with its Hollywood remake, but a minority of posters are understandably confused about the plot.

How I felt about it. César is exceedingly wealthy and has a whole team of plastic surgeons, but he ends up with thick visible scars, a huge swelling on his right cheek, and a right eye that extends horizontally for several inches? I don't buy it.

We also wonder why the cryogenics firm would splice the dream life after the disfigured César has a miserable night out. Obviously, the splice would have been made just prior to the car accident, thus eliminating all of the trauma endured by our angst-ridden lead.

César should also demand a refund for his dream life, in which he becomes a murderer and a prisoner. His real life prior to the accident was much better, even though it lacked Cruz as an accessory.

It would be interesting if the film was remade with a woman in the lead. These "beauty and the beast" movies always have the man done up as Freddy Krueger. So you can't chase twenty-something skirts any longer. Can't you settle for reruns of "Laverne and Shirley" instead?