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Knight and Day: Is Cruise out of control? This movie is

Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise star in Knight and Day.

2 out of 4 stars


Knight and Day

  • Directed by James Mangold
  • Written by Patrick O'Neill
  • Starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz
  • Classification: PG

When a star has achieved the controversial mega-wattage of Tom Cruise, it's often difficult to separate the performance from the personality. In Knight and Day, Cruise's first lead role in two years, the 48-year-old actor plays a charming, but possibly mentally unstable, man. The casting may be reasonably construed as a send-up of his own reputation as both a control freak and possible kook. Unavoidably, anything Cruise does these days now comes with a lot of baggage (the Oprah couch-jumping, comments about psychiatry as a "Nazi science") which makes the first scene of Knight and Day particularly appropriate. It takes place around the baggage security check at the Wichita, Kan., airport.

We first see Cruise's character, Roy, scoping the other passengers before he arranges to collide with a woman, June (Cameron Diaz), who is pulling a heavy carry-on bag. Then he collides with her again when they both have cleared the security gates, and a few minutes later, they find themselves seated together in an almost empty plane.

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Directed by James Mangold ( 3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line) from a screenplay by Patrick O'Neill, Knight and Day makes a laboured attempt at Hitchcockian wit and glamour in the mode of To Catch a Thief or North by Northwest.

The filmmakers put most of their chips on the chance that audiences will be entranced by the romantic pairing between Cruise, as a government agent who may or may not have gone rogue, and Cameron, as a tomboy vintage-car restorer who becomes his kidnap victim. They race through a disorienting series of chase sequences in tourist-friendly locations as shadow agents in dark suits and cars chase them around the world in search of a "perpetual energy" device the size of a cigarette lighter. None of it makes any sense, but the strategy here is that the tongue-in-cheek lightness of the movie will be infectious enough to make us overlook the inconsistencies.

The first of the succession of action set pieces occurs shortly after June finds that she and Roy are among the handful of passengers on a flight she had been told was sold out. She immediately starts seeing him as a romantic conquest. Later, when she goes to the washroom, Roy gets into a gunfight and kills everyone on board the plane, including the gun-toting flight crew. For some reason, June is not overly concerned. After Roy crash-lands the jet in a corn field, she has the first of several blackouts when Roy slips her a drug.

This becomes a repeated comic plot cheat, as June keeps getting knocked out and waking up in some new improbable location - the Swiss Alps; Seville, Spain; a remote tropical island; even her own Boston apartment. Not only does the trick get tired, this mixture of black comedy and romance feels ill-conceived.

June's attraction to Roy is intentionally inappropriate, with its suggestions of abduction and date-drugging. Diaz does a lot of hysterical shrieking in the first half of the movie before starting to look sparkly-eyed at Roy when they hit the posh European hotels. She finally confesses her lust after she's been hit with a dose of truth serum.

Throughout, Roy remains sociopathically calm, as Cruise flashes his famous choppers in the midst of torture, flying bullets or somersaulting SUVs on the highway. Cruise has played unbalanced characters before - in Magnolia, Collateral and Tropic Thunder - but the ambiguity here about whether he's in or out of control is carried on long past all sense, as the body count rises to alarming heights.

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A little more time developing why these strangers come to care for each other might have helped, and ultimately, it's a failure of script more than performances. A collection of first-rate actors in subsidiary roles includes Paul Dano as a shaggy science nerd, the superb Viola Davis ( Doubt) as a federal intelligence chief, Marc Blucas as June's slightly dim old beau, and Peter Sarsgaard as Roy's pursuer. There's no time for any of them to establish credibility in this fragmented, pell-mell plot.

Mangold proves a competent if unspectacular action director; the use of digital help is sometimes too obvious, especially in a misplaced bull-running scene, inexplicably moved to Seville from Pamplona. His larger problem is trying to hold together a movie that jerks about in tone as much as it does location, veering between grisly humour and cutesy sentiments.

Knight and Day won't do anything to alter Tom Cruise's reputation, which may be the point - but it won't do much for his résumé either.

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