Movies: Knight and Day * * *
(12A, GENERAL RELEASE)
Who'd be Tom Cruise? Okay, there's the money and the mansions and Katie Holmes, but in recent years he's been attacked by all and sundry every time he sneezes.
Since his ill-judged appearance on Oprah in 2005, the critical knives have been out for him, and every time a new film of his appears, hack reviewers line up to give his career the last rites. This despite some pretty fair performances of late, for instance in Valkyrie and Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder.
Knight and Day has performed poorly at the US box office, and reviewers have been quick to blame Cruise for it. But completely unfairly as it turns out, because he and co-star Cameron Diaz are by far the best things about this James Mangold film, which, despite being full of flaws, is for long periods surprisingly entertaining. Those flaws are probably the result of a tortured development history which included several directors and a flock of writers, and Knight and Day for the most part feels hopelessly contrived. It's big, it's dumb and it doesn't make much sense, but it's also a lot of fun.
Diaz is June Havens, a slightly ditsy classic car restorer who's on her way to her sister's wedding in Boston when she bumps into a charismatic stranger at Wichita Airport. Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) apologises, but their collision was no coincidence, and when June boards a half-empty flight with Miller she soon finds out the kind of man she's dealing with. Roy is a secret agent, and in the film's best scene he does away with the plane's entire crew and passengers while she's checking her make-up in the bathroom.
All were enemy agents trying to assassinate Roy, who is in possession of a prototype for a radical new battery that never runs out and could become a priceless commodity. He used June to smuggle it through security at the airport and, as a result, she becomes involved in a mad chase across America and Europe.
On Roy's tail are the FBI, specifically his old partner Special Agent Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard), who claims Roy has gone rogue and is trying to sell the battery to the highest bidder. In reality, Roy is trying to protect the battery and its young inventor, Simon Feck (Paul Dano) from both the FBI and a ruthless Spanish arms dealer. Meanwhile, Roy and June have taken a shine to each other, but she's never quite sure whether or not she can trust him.
Once it settles down after its highly entertaining opening sequence, Knight and Day turns into an extended chase movie. There are some clever car-chase sequences, but perhaps a few too many, because the actors tend to get lost in the midst of the CGI pyrotechnics, which too often go to ludicrous extremes to keep the hectic pace going. So little attempt is made to make the action believable that you end up being forced to just go with it and accept that, for better or worse, Knight and Day is a kind of live action cartoon.
Thank God for the film's sense of humour, which rescues it from dumb action tedium on more than one occasion. And thank God, too, for Cruise and Diaz, two actors with the charm and talent to give us something human to hang on to. They bring warmth and believability to their characters' developing relationship despite being given very little assistance by the script, and Diaz is great as a wide-eyed innocent thrown into a never-ending gun battle.
As for Cruise, he plays Roy Miller as a slightly manic charmer who remains as calm and polite as a Mormon no matter what is happening. He does a great job of the comedy, and reminds us why he was for a long time the number-one box-office draw in Hollywood. Maybe he's not any more, but he still has more charisma in his little finger than most of his younger rivals.