As I reflect on his career, I think I know why: Cruise's movies are better accepted and better reviewed when he dances, but doesn't take himself -- or his dancing --too seriously.
In Risky Business: Cruise's character lived by the motto "Sometimes you gotta say 'What the fuck." And his loosey-goosey, what the fuck attitude helped endear him to the audience. As a result, Risky Business was a hit, and Cruise became a major star.
In The Color Of Money, Cruise combined his dancing around the pool table with a smarmy, arrogant grin that let the audience in on Cruise's belief that he'd made the big-time. The goofy dance with the pool cue, combined with that way-too-thick hair made me want to hit him in the face with a broken Bud bottle.
(Plus, he ruined a perfectly good Clapton song.)
Man, Cruise really believed his stuff was gold in this flick. I mean, the sneer, the weird laugh, the perfect hair -- it's all there. Along with the pansy-ass dancing, of course.
Really. Bad. Dancing.
After the couch jump on Oprah, the whole Scientology thing, dumping a talented (and hot) Nicole Kidman to marry that chick from Dawson's Creek and that strange Today Show interview with Matt Lauer, Cruise saw his career headed south. He had to get back to basics.
So, he danced again in Tropic Thunder.
But this time he did it with humility, and humor. And he did it with style.
And it worked. Welcome back, Tommy. Dance more, my friend. Dance in your underwear or dance in strange prosthetics, but don't stop dancin'! Your career depends on it.
UPDATE: Well, YouTube dropped video of Cruise dancing in Tropic Thunder. Go see the flick, you'll see what I mean.