Knight and Day : Tom Cruise’s Charm Offensive

4 minute read
Mary Pols

The action in Knight and Day revolves around a much sought-after technological breakthrough code-named Zephyr, a C-size battery that can power a submarine and never runs down. Tom Cruise’s character, superspy Roy Miller, describes this wonder as the first perpetual-energy source since the sun. “It’s not your average Duracell,” he tells June Havens (Cameron Diaz), the plucky Boston girl who unwittingly gets caught up in his efforts to protect the Zephyr and its eccentric young inventor (Paul Dano).

It doesn’t seem fair that Duracell gets the product placement; if there’s one power source that comes to mind watching Cruise in this capable entertainment, it’s Energizer and its indomitable bunny. In his 29 years in the business, the 47-year-old actor has run the gamut of public opinion, from the crushworthy hunk of Top Gun to the mushy, gushy dude who wanted all of us to feel just how fast Katie Holmes made his heart beat. We recoiled as he jumped on Oprah’s couch and picked a fight with Matt Lauer and chattered about Scientology. Yet he just kept going and going, and the slick, proficient Knight and Day is proof that you should never count Cruise out.

(See the top 10 Tom Cruise roles.)

He’s already shown how he can play off the public’s perceptions of him as intense and unhinged — indeed, that’s where he tends to do his best work, from 1999’s Magnolia to the 2008 comedy Tropic Thunder . But Knight and Day , directed by James Mangold, might be the most impressive act of rehabilitation yet. As Roy, a Mission: Impossible –type secret agent who may be crazy, Cruise willingly parodies himself while reminding us of the qualities that made him a star in the first place. We get to titter and point at that uniquely maniacal grin but can’t help noticing that he’s still an awfully fine-looking man. By the time he peeks over his sunglasses Risky Business –style, we don’t even wince.

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The Spy Who Drugged Me
Due credit for this successful reinvention has to go to Diaz, who channels the audience’s reservations about Cruise while convincingly falling for Roy. June has a few ditsy moments, but she’s cut from the same cloth as Sandra Bullock’s character in Speed : overwhelmed yet adaptable. In an early scene, she and Roy are flirting on a nearly empty flight. When she retreats to the bathroom to primp — and debate whether Roy is cheesy or sexy — he engages in mortal combat with everyone else on the plane, including the pilots. “It’s not your first rodeo, woman,” she tells herself, then goes out and kisses him, not noticing the carnage until they disengage. Diaz is wonderfully deft in such scenes, and there’s a genuine comic pulse between her and Cruise.

The duo gets chased around the globe, from the Azores to Seville, Spain, by nefarious weapons dealers as well as Roy’s former partner Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard). Roy warns June that Fitzgerald will tell her he’s gone rogue and off the rails — but none of that is true. Or is it? Knight and Day is like Mr. and Mrs. Smith with questionable sanity standing in for marital tension, although without the spicy Brangelina backstory. But it is the very definition of a summer blockbuster: smart but not taxingly so, filled with pretty people (Diaz and Cruise look fantastic) and things that go boom.

(See TIME’s Summer Entertainment Preview 2010.)

Mangold plunges into his action sequences as if he were auditioning to helm the next Jason Bourne movie, sending a dozen spinning, skidding cars through Boston’s tunnels and over its bridges. All these stunts are ridiculously over the top, and by the time we get to Austria, they go on too long. But on the whole, they’re so gracefully executed that we go along with the fun idea that Roy could silently lasso a row of bad guys, one by one, extracting them from a scene as if he were using Photoshop. In a running gag, Roy drugs June whenever the situation gets too hairy. (“You weren’t coping well,” he explains.) It plays knowingly off our cynicism about action movies — how do Bourne or Ethan Hunt get from point A to point B so easily? June just shuts her eyes in one place, amid a hail of bullets, and about 18 hours later opens them somewhere else, wearing stylish new clothes suitable for the climate. No wonder she starts to like Roy. The movie’s greatest trick is that we do too.

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