Featured Critic; St. Louis, MO
In this movie, Tom Cruise might be crazy. That's the all-to-believable premise behind the latest otherwise action-packed Cruise vehicle, "Knight and Day", also starring Cameron Diaz. Besides being a surprisingly highly effective bit of summer escapism, "Knight and Day" is, inevitably, a case study in how to craft a blockbuster film around a major star that the public has generally grown weary of. The film's screenplay never relinquishes the tension that Cruise's character - a super-skilled off-the-grid secret agent that is equal parts Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt - may not be all there.

But that's as much of a concession to Cruise's all-too-public real life couch jumping/scientology shenanigans of a few years ago as the film offers. "Knight and Day" wastes no time in portraying Cruise as a loveably clever and downright magnetic killing machine. In keeping with just about all of the actor's roles, he is once again the best of the best, now wronged, and fighting to get back to the top. Extensive globe hoping, multiple fight scenes and plenty of witty banter make up the bulk of this romp.

And a romp it most definitely is. Despite the lackluster trailers, playing up Cruise's tired Cheshire cat grin and Diaz' shrieking, "Knight and Day", shockingly, is a major breath of fresh air amid this year's stale summer cinema. (The transcendent "Toy Story 3" notwithstanding - a film which happens to be preceded by a delightfully simple Pixar short called "Day and Night" - not to be confused with this delightfully simple feature.)

James Mangold directs with competent tongue-in-cheek adrenaline fueled precision, making this a highlight in the "Walk the Line" director's varied and diverse career. The first forty or so minutes are especially taut and effective, winning over this very skeptical critic early on. Mangold regular cinematographer Phedon Papamichael is also to be commended in his realization of what is no doubt the director's nod to "North by Northwest" and other accomplished star vehicles that utilize their famous leads personas for fun and witty profit. Not that Mangold is quite as skewering of Cruise's persona as Hitchcock was of Cary Grant's, but I can't help but think that if Hitch were alive today, and opted to make an action movie, "Knight and Day" may very well closely resemble the result.

Like Cary Grant in 1959's "North by Northwest", Cruise is decades into his superstar career, wearing his trademark smirk and windblown hair the way Grant wore that grey suit back then. Thus, the timing of this film is apt. Mangold knows exactly what he is doing with this subtle elbow-to-the-ribs take on overblown summer studio fare. Yes, it is what it mocks, but at the same time, "Mission: Impossible 4" this ain't.

I strongly suspect that despite the film's quality and extreme likability, "Knight and Day" is going to have a tough time luring an audience. My observation is that the long-permeating Cruise hatred among the general populace may, at this point, be too strong to overcome. Which is too bad, since despite whatever loopiness his personal life has wrought, the man still tends to make quality films - albeit ones that fit comfortably within his wheelhouse. This is definitely one of them. But with both Cruise and Diaz both inadvertently showing their ages at various moments in the film (check out his crow's feet hiding beneath his cool sunglasses! And what about Diaz' semi-haggard looks in certain shots... are her days as the hot girl numbered?) one has to wonder how long would this would-be franchise could really go on anyhow. I mean, you can only run around rooftops with guns for so long before your knees begin to let you know about it, right? Perhaps a one-off is best this time.

In any case, "Knight and Day" ranks as a tremendously pleasant surprise. Granted, at 110 minutes, it does overstay its welcome with maybe one chase too many - although it never stops being entertaining. Cruise and Diaz do have fairly appealing chemistry here (one jokingly wonders if this film could be a prequel to their fatal meet up at the beginning of Cameron Crowe's "Vanilla Sky"). It may sound crazy, but if you want to have fun at the movies this summer, go see "Knight and Day".

- Jim Tudor

Knight and Day

  • James Mangold
  • Patrick O'Neill
  • Tom Cruise
  • Cameron Diaz
  • Peter Sarsgaard
  • Jordi Mollà
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James MangoldPatrick O'NeillTom CruiseCameron DiazPeter SarsgaardJordi MollàActionComedyRomance

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