The opening weekend take for Tom Cruise's latest vehicle, Mission: Impossible III, is a study in poor handling and a verdict on the perils of not keeping celebrities on a short leash, when need be.
Granted, the damage was done well before Paul Bloch, co-chairman of Rogers & Cowan, took the reins from Cruise's publisister LeAnne DeVette. He got the Cruise product well after the vitriol, the "you're glib, Matt" bit on Today, the Oprah couch affair, and the Scientology tents. Bloch's acquisition post-DeVette was a bit like a parent being given back the keys to the family Porsche after the teenager has totaled it. Bloch could only do so much to straighten out the kinks.
Thus far, it doesn't look as if even the presence of Academy Award-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman can counterbalance the bad karma Cruise has generated in the past year or so.
The good news for Bloch is that he does have time on his side. The calculus of celebrity is a wildly unpredictable formula, such that the greater the depths of self-immolation, the greater the potential for a cathartic return to the fold. Americans have this seemingly endless capacity to forgive the celebrities they love, or hate. They also tend to have a relatively short memory and love nothing more than the drama, the pathos of the prodigal star. Martha Stewart's stock is up again. So is Kobe Bryant's. Who knows, but even Mike Tyson may return, a lesser George Foreman, perhaps born again and pitching lean cuisine and mufflers.
The key to resuscitating Cruise will be putting him in a metaphorical closet: fewer appearances, less talking, more smiling. Bloch should take a page from the studio system, circa 1940, when studios had stables of stars who were tightly controlled, whose public "personalities" - including details of their private lives - were as manufactured as possible.