UK Official Blasts Tom for Not Flying

05/22/2003 at 12:30 PM EDT

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

A British film official is complaining that some of Hollywood's leading men lack the guts (and another part of the anatomy) to fly because of terrorism fears.

Speaking to his country's Financial Times newspaper, British film minister Kim Howells complains that "tough-guy heroes of the screen" are "too frightened" to travel to Europe -- and he singles out Tom Cruise as one example.

"Swashbuckling heroes like Tom Cruise," he says, are more frightened about terrorism than they are about "grannies from New York."

Continuing his tirade, the minister declares: "These people portray themselves as great action heroes and although we know they use stunt men all the time."

Cruise, 40, was supposedly due to attend the Cannes Film Festival, but he reportedly pulled out because he was filming the 1870s action movie "The Last Samurai." The star's girlfriend, Penelope Cruz, helped open the festival May 14 with her movie "Fanfan la Tulipe."

After its screening she was asked during a press conference why Cruise wasn't with her, and she said he was working -- though by then it was already reported throughout two hemispheres that Cruise had finished "Samurai" and had flown home to California.

There's been no comment from Cruise's camp on Howells's remarks.

The comments came, in part, because England is suffering from a lack of tourists (a combination of a weakened dollar, post-war jitters and a widespread SARS scare aboard international flights), and stars are thought to influence the behavior of the public.

Howells tells the Financial Times that he hopes more stars follow the example of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was highly visible in Cannes promoting his third "Terminator" film.

Says Howells: "One would assume they would have the balls to do a simple thing like ... fly to Europe and set an example for the rest of the nation."

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