Minority Report

Tom Cruise plays a cop in a future where murderers are caught before they can even commit the murder they're charged with. Steven Spielberg is behind the camera. With a great setup and such A-list talent, is Minority Report the "thinking man's action picture" that some critics have purported it to be? No. But it does have plenty of nifty special effects, a surprising amount of dark humor, fine production design by Alex McDowell (who did similarly strong work in Fight Club and The Crow), and a top-notch supporting cast including Max von Sydow, Lois Smith, and especially Samantha Morton.

Morton plays one of three "pre-cogs," zombie-like mutants held precious by the Washington, DC police force for their uncanny ability to predict when a local citizen is about to murder somebody, hours or even days before it happens. The story kicks in when the pre-cogs determine that Cruise himself is due to murder someone the following Friday. Naturally, Cruise insists that he's being set up (he doesn't even know the man he's supposed to kill) but has to take it on the lam when his colleagues hear the news: after all, the pre-cogs are always right. Or are they?

The populist Spielberg is as poorly matched with gloomy sci fi writer Philip K. Dick, on whose original short story the film is based, as he was with the ghost of Stanley Kubrick for his ill-fated A.I. The feel-good filmmaker/studio head, having lived as charmed a life as anyone could hope for, cannot wrap his prodigious talents around the cynical, fatalistic visions of Dick. Oh well. You can pretty much guess that going in, so sit back, enjoy the effects, tolerate Cruise (who, Spielberg realizes, is best served as a human special effect - the director keeps his star so busy with physical activity that Cruise doesn't have the time to do his standard overemoting shtick), and never mind the story. Which, as usual, is the sinker here.

I group Minority Report with two other futuristic thrillers that failed to deliver on their gimmick: Gattaca and Strange Days. All three movies blow their chances at greatness by pairing intriguing sci fi concepts with shopworn film noir storylines; in this case, Cruise is the character you've seen a million times before: the good cop with a painful past who gets set up for a crime he didn't commit. Gee, who is the evil mastermind behind it all? Minority Report gives us a whopping two potential bad guys to choose from. I figured it all out the moment Swedish actor Peter Stormare appears, leering and raving as a creepy eye replacement surgeon who puts Cruise under the knife. To wit: don't trust those Swedes!

Still, despite the predictably schmaltzy ending (easily the most frustrating thing about Spielberg's films) and the occasional overshoot of future technology fantasies (no way could we have Tron-like rocket cars on superhighways in just 50 years), Minority Report is made with great craft and it provides some good solid entertainment. But it's not a "thinking man's" anything.