Spin-off movies are interesting territory. Most often, the concept behind a spin-off film involves a character who got very little, but meaningful screen time getting fleshed out into their own movie. This is where problems arise — sometimes there simply isn’t enough fleshing to be done. Such is the (possible) case with the character of Les Grossman, as played by Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder.
Over the weekend, Cruise’s appearance as Grossman at the MTV Movie Awards was met with a sort of confused delight. It was great to see that character again, as he was a riot in Thunder. But at the same time, it was Cruise bringing that character back two years removed from when we first met him. Why bring him back now? A backstage exchange between Cruise and E! appears to have uncovered the answer. “We’re working on it,” Cruise beamed when asked if a Les Grossman movie was in the works. “Yup, we’re working on it.”
Wait, a Les Grossman movie? But why? I like the theory put forth by Devin Faraci, who writes: “If Cruise is about going to head into Oscar mode in the next couple of years, having a raucous comedy on the side can only help demonstrate his range. And since Cruise’s intensity simply doesn’t work in non-fatsuit comedies (he always has to be the intense straight man), Les Grossman opens up brand new doors for the actor.”
Perhaps we go a step further. Perhaps Cruise just wants to return to what he had in the late 80s and 90s, the following of a larger than life movie star. In the current climate, and given his eccentric streak over the last five years or so, doing something absurd like taking Les Grossman to feature-length territory might be the safest bet. People eat that character up because he’s not the same Tom Cruise who jumped up on Oprah’s couch. He’s a free, self-effacing guy who is having fun at his own expense. And it’s funny.
The ultimate question will be story. Is there enough story in the universe that revolves around Les Grossman to make for an interesting movie. This is the case with any spin-off. Take two examples. One being Get Him to the Greek, a spin-off of the Aldous Snow character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Not only was Russell Brand’s Snow funny, there was clearly more to him than what we saw in Sarah Marshall. On the other hand, consider a film like Evan Almighty. Steve Carell’s character in Bruce Almighty was one note. And worse, one joke. Taking him into his own movie yielded catastrophic results, as the writers were forced to manufacture story elements that didn’t fit whatsoever with original character. And it bombed.
My best guess: Tom Cruise makes it work. And a Les Grossman movie, rooted at Paramount and possibly involving Ben Stiller in some creative capacity, would be given the creative attention it needs and would turn out a decent product. It would complete the cycle that would help everyone forget about Tom Cruise off-screen and focus on what he is on-screen, a very good actor.