Say what you will about Tom Cruise, but the man knows how to generate a headline. Just days after announcing three new possible projects, he dropped a bombshell: His production company had signed a meaty deal with moribund United Artists. Cruise will help oversee UA's movies, while his longtime producing partner, Paula Wagner, will become CEO of the MGM division. Both will have a ''substantial'' ownership stake in a studio they hope will be particularly collaborative with filmmakers. ''We want their creative vision to really be what hits the screen,'' says MGM's COO Rick Sands. ''This is a partnership, a complete alignment of interests.'' That interest, of course, being a comeback for Cruise, who is said to have faced a lot of closing doors around Hollywood of late, and UA, which had been up for sale last year.
But is this the jolt that the superstar's career needs? There are signs that this could be a case in which the press release reads like gangbusters, but the reality is more complicated. For starters, the actor isn't obligated to star in any of the movies UA makes a crucial catch when you consider that the majority of Cruise/Wagner hits (War of the Worlds, Minority Report, the Mission: Impossible franchise) featured the actor, while most of its misses (Ask the Dust, Elizabethtown, and Suspect Zero) didn't. Besides, we've heard the this-will-be-a-more-artist-friendly-company line before and in recent cases like Revolution Studios or DreamWorks, it was a promise that even a titan like Steven Spielberg ultimately couldn't keep. UA's history is also spotty: No studio has been bought, sold, killed, and reborn more times in its history than the house that Charlie Chaplin and friends built. ''It had its ups and downs,'' Sands admits. ''[But it] was successful for several years. We think that that can happen again.'' Considering that the division basically didn't exist two weeks ago, they're off to a good start.