Film Review: Knight and Day

Slick and energetic action-comedy showcase for Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz has nothing on its mind but pure escapism.

The movie-logic patrol might as well sit out Knight and Day, the espionage action comedy that is Tom Cruise’s bid to reclaim his former glory as a top box-office draw. Patrick O’Neill’s script doesn’t even try to explain how Cruise’s super-agent Roy Miller cheats death and outwits the bad guys—that’s part of the joke of this escapist confection, stylishly directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma).

Audiences on the hunt for nail-biting suspense and emotional investment in the action should look elsewhere. From the first major set-piece aboard a plane in which all the passengers and even the pilot are determined to eliminate Roy (and are all foiled), there’s never any doubt that our mysterious hero has unnatural survival skills. Even the most over-the-top James Bond films have provided moments of true vulnerability and jeopardy for the ultra-capable Agent 007; Knight and Day, whose high body count is part and parcel with its fluffy attitude, will have none of that.

The raison d’être of Knight and Day is to watch what happens when two of the most attractive actors on the planet share the screen, flirt, dodge bullets and hopscotch the globe. On that undemanding level, the film delivers. Cameron Diaz is June Havens, a vintage-car restorer whose airport encounter with Roy leads her onto that ill-fated plane and into an absolutely surreal round-the-world adventure filled with frantic car chases, violent ambushes, an all-too-brief interlude on a deserted island, a fight to the death on an Alpine train, and even a motorcycle ride amidst the running of the bulls in Cadiz, Spain. One of Mangold and O’Neill’s cleverer conceits has June getting periodically drugged by Roy (to save him the trouble of dealing with her panicked self), with the audience sharing her hazy, momentary glimpses of the reckless narrow escapes that follow. (In one of these sequences, Roy is tied up and hanging upside-down and assures June everything will be fine—and, sure enough, the couple is somewhere new in the very next shot.)

The Hitchcock-style MacGuffin here is a battery-sized perpetual-energy source invented by an eccentric young scientist (Paul Dano in gently goofy mode) and sought by competing interests, including an international arms dealer played with diabolical charm by Spanish star Jordi Molla. Viola Davis (Doubt) is overqualified for the slim demands of her part as the CIA director, while Peter Sarsgaard looks downright annoyed with his thankless role as Roy’s CIA rival.

Ultimately, the film depends on the chemistry between Cruise and Diaz, and they seem cozy and comfortable in each other’s presence. As the unstoppable Roy, Cruise gets to riff on his super-confident, relentlessly upbeat off-screen persona (Wow! He gets the joke!), while Diaz shows off the appealing, bubbly personality and comic timing that have always made her more than just a screen beauty. Knight and Day is as disposable and inconsequential as summer entertainments get, but it’s an undeniably glossy and high-energy showcase for two major movie stars.