Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No Cruise control

The sudden dissolution of Tom's marriage leaves the action star working without a script

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Oh, they may have snagged one of the better celebrity couple names, but TomKat had a decidedly dubious celebrity marriage.

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes's five-year union always had a staged quality. Its bliss proclaimed at regular intervals, accompanied by Cruise's scary, big-toothed, overcompensating smile, the marriage felt scrupulously scripted.

Maybe that's why we're all so thrilled that it could be headed toward the kind of kooky, convoluted ending not seen since the unmasking scenes in the first Mission: Impossible movie. Divorces divvy up shared property, and the narrative of TomKat's life is now diverging rather spectacularly.

The beginning of the love affair was a Tom Cruise production. But the divorce, it seems, will be written and directed by Katie Holmes. While Cruise was always going for The Grand Romance, Holmes is now aiming for The Great Escape. There's a lot at stake here, and it's not so much Cruise's multimillion-dollar fortune as his public persona.

Hollywood has a fine tradition of sham marriages, and the TomKat saga came off as a calculated, maybe even contractual bid to present Cruise as a relatable, regular husband-and-father kind of guy (who just happens to dig extreme sports and count his net worth at $200 million-plus). Holmes, who at the time they got together was a 26-year-old good-girl, promised a normality that could be counted on to counteract Cruise's odd Scientological outbursts and rumours about his control-freaky ways.

Cruise has always seemed like a bit of a pod person, passing himself off as a real human being by carefully observing and replicating earthling behaviour. His relationship to Holmes ticked the obvious boxes for true love -- the whirlwind romance (check!), the proposal atop the Eiffel Tower (check!), the wedding in a 15th-century Italian castle (check!).

Unfortunately, Cruise misjudged -- disastrously -- with his bizarre burst of Oprah-frightening couch-jumping in 2005. Trying to look like he was crazy in love, he ended up looking plain crazy.

The action-man's rare but revealing slip-ups undermine his official love story, making alternative readings of the TomKat text deliciously compelling. One gossip site memorably called Holmes "a Scientology war bride," while others snarked that she was being heavily chaperoned by Tom's people, coming off as passive and trance-like in interviews.

And while Holmes always looked polished and put-together on the red carpet, the paparazzi outdid themselves in catching and freezing micro-expressions of trapped terror or mute despair.

At first she looked a bit like a Humane Society puppy, staring beseechingly from its cage. Recently, Holmes had perfected the tragic-yet-bravely-bearing-up smile that Diana, Princess of Wales, wielded so brilliantly near the end of her marriage to Prince Charles.

Now Holmes seems ready to rewrite her life, and the tabloids are definitely onside, treating her divorce like a daring prison break. They report, with undeniably gleeful undertones, that she waited until Cruise was safely in Iceland, set up a New York bolthole, blindsided him with papers, and moved for sole custody of the couple's six-year-old daughter, Suri.

One website ran the first post-divorce-announcement photos of Holmes with the blaring headline "Here's What Freedom Looks Like," making it sound as if she had just crossed the Alps into neutral Switzerland.

Cruise is now attempting to regroup, positioning himself as the "deeply saddened" injured party, ambushed by an immature and wayward wife. But it's hard to see how this position can be sustained as his life goes increasingly off script. The star's hyper-managed public persona has carried him through a lot, but in the end it actually drives the tabloid desire to get to the "real" Tom Cruise (whoever that could possibly be). An ugly divorce and custody battle might force Cruise to take off the mask and expose what's underneath.

(So, oh my gosh, it IS like the ending of Mission: Impossible.)

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 7, 2012 E1

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