So How's The Studio Mogul Thing Working Out For Tom Cruise?

When MGM turned over the reigns of its moribund United Artists label to Tom Cruise a few short months after the actor/producer/freelance detox technician was cruelly cast out of the Paramount family, we just assumed that the burgeoning mogul would effortlessly greenlight himself up a few blockbusters that would quickly restore him to his former position as the Biggest Movie Star in the World. But with early reviews of the forthcoming Lions for Lambs, his first UA-branded release seeming tepid at best, Slate's Kim Masters looks at the studio's next projects, finding little that would make one want to stomp a talk show sofa in joy:

But back to business. The film's lack of commercial appeal wouldn't be a problem if the movie were generating reviews that would give it Oscar fuel. But it isn't, and UA's got two more tough-to-market movies coming down the pipeline. Up next is Valkyrie, in which Cruise plays Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, a German icon who tried to assassinate Hitler. You might recall that the Germans—hostile to Scientology—wouldn't allow filming in the Bendlerblock, where Stauffenberg was executed. When the government relented, footage shot there was mysteriously damaged in the lab and had to be reshot.

Valkyrie is a period piece with a downer ending, but at least it's directed by Bryan Singer, who has The Usual Suspects and the first two X-Men to his credit. He might be able to make a movie that has some box office appeal, though whether the public is prepared to swallow Cruise in a Nazi uniform with an eye patch is obviously a looming question. (One industry veteran sniped that the photo from the production makes Cruise look like one of the Village People.)

The third movie coming from UA is Oliver Stone's take on the My Lai massacre. No kidding. At least they cast Bruce Willis instead of Mel Gibson, who was considered at one point.

Even taking into account our suspicions that there's a powerful network of Teutonic saboteurs who will stop at nothing—they've proven themselves unafraid to employ flatulent suicide-bombers to wreak havoc on the shoot— to bring down the Valkyrie project, we think the single greatest threat to the film's success, as Masters alludes to above, is the indelible image of Cruise released by United Artists months ago. Every time we see him in that costume, we're consumed by a fantasy of grabbing the star by his cheeks and telling him, "Who's my adorable little Nazi hunter? Who's gonna go off and kill the big bad Hitler today? You are! Don't forget your lunch, I packed you a yummy ham-and-chesse sandwich today!," an urge that's done little to dispel our fears about the actor's persistent credibility problems.