Going through the motions

I just got back from yet another Tom Cruise movie. I've recently developed a passive affection for Tom Cruise, based on nothing more than time and endurance on both our parts. I don't follow his every tabloid move or track him on IMDB or anything, I just like the thought of, here's another summer, let's see what Tom Cruise is up to. He's one of those stars that I chart my own path by; we grew up together, Tom and I. I was there for The Outsiders, back in the day. I showed up for Risky Business and All the Right Moves and Top Gun and Cocktail. I forgave him for Vanilla Sky—that required a lot of empathy on my part, a recognition and acceptance of the fact that we all make mistakes. We both went through phases and we both got older, a little sadder and hopefully a little wiser, but we survived. We made it this far! That's starting to feel like more and more of a big thing, even though it's not really. If you think about it, it's just shuffling through. Following the tracks. But when Tom Cruise dies, probably a part of me will die along with him. This isn't morbidity speaking, only fact. Unless I go first, in which case I doubt Tom Cruise will even know I'm gone. That's fact #2, a tough pill to swallow, sure, but let's not kid ourselves here.

And the movie was fine! I don't have anything profound to say about Mission: Impossible: Whatever. I don't think "profound" and "Mission: Impossible" belong in the same sentence, even, but feel free to present your own thesis. It delivered exactly the kind of mainline, mainstream extravaganza experience I expect from a blockbuster summertime action movie, so I was satisfied. Everybody earns their paycheck. They all succeed at their jobs. Alec Baldwin shows up and performs as Jack Donaghy, which is all anybody wants him to do anymore, and there is a female role (one! one chick!) played by an actress named Rebecca Ferguson, who ends up stealing the whole picture right out from under all these seen-it-all-before old-timers. It was loud and fun and forgettable, just like summer and most other things. That's what summer is for, in my opinion. It's just one long hot nap with your eyes open.

This movie was shown at my goofy neighborhood Loews, which features reserved seating for the matinee price of nearly $20, which let’s face it is a little outrageous. It is, right? Sometimes I can't tell what's normal anymore, but that seems wildly expensive to me. I could get two Shack burgers and two orders of delicious crinkle-cut fries for that kind of dough. Life can’t be all about Shack burgers, though, can it? Sometimes you need to cut the fat with some wide-release, widescreen entertainment, don’t you? Don’t bother answering, these are all hypothetical existential conundrums that will take me literally decades to unravel. But obviously, on my part, at least, there's some resentment involved.

Reserved seating is generally not a problem for me, since I purchase most of my tickets online, where I can take the time to study the seating map and make an informed decision in relation to easy bathroom exits. But this afternoon, in a rush of overconfidence, I mistakenly opted to “pay with cash.” I rolled up to the box office at the last minute and, with zero preparation or forethought, took one look at the available seats and casually pointed to “A1,” which I chose because it reminded me of steak. Not a solid foundation on which to base financial or emotional investments, FYI. And I knowingly performed this stupid action while assuming that “A1” would be the last seat in the last row, when in hindsight…

Well. The signs were all there. You would think I’d never bought a ticket in any kind of theater before. You would think I forgot how letters and numbers work. The ticket taker actually laughed out loud as he escorted me all the way down to my seat in the front row, on the aisle, which is a seat that clearly exists almost exclusively for the benefit of weirdos and idiots. Not a seat that any normal, right-thinking person would select unless they were operating under extreme duress, whereas I ended up there because I was lazy and dreaming of sirloins I have known.

Altogether it was a very off-putting experience. The lady next to me was wearing crazy hiking sandals and a little baseball cap, which I respected, and we each laughed and gasped at the appropriate places, but she also smelled like certain hotel lobbies in Las Vegas, a heady combination of vanilla and sunscreen designed to smother the senses and make you lose all track of time. I could have sat there for weeks and not even known it. And since this particular theater specializes in all the latest moviegoing comfort gimmicks, the seats are these deep, wide-bodied leatherette numbers that recline to a nearly horizontal position, so watching this film was basically the cinematic equivalent of lying flat on my back for three days while staring up at the ceiling and slightly to the left.

The good news is that I can now confirm for you, from a distance of approximately 10 feet and at a magnification rate of well over 450,000 percent, that Tom Cruise still looks pretty good, and that Alec Baldwin has got the largest head in the history of all humankind.