O.K., so I think I might finally have a handle on Tom Cruise. Not Tom Cruise the “human being,” mind you-’cause, get serious, who (save Xenu) has a handle on that-but Tom Cruise, Movie Star. I say this after seeing Mr. Cruise’s new film, Knight and Day. The credits rolled, and as I blinked my way back out to daylight, I realized I was thinking something along the lines of: Wow, could this be the smartest Tom Cruise movie Tom Cruise has ever done? And then that was followed by the far more disturbing: What if Tom Cruise is a genius?
Now hear me out! The seeds of this theory were planted in 2008, after Mr. Cruise appeared in a memorable cameo role in Tropic Thunder, playing foulmouthed Les Grossman to great comic effect (something he reprised earlier this month in a somewhat mind-blowing appearance at the MTV Movie Awards-dancing around with Jennifer Lopez in character-mere days before it was announced that an entire movie was being developed around the character). It’s been a long and winding road for Mr. Cruise and his publicity machine (the couch-jumping, the box office duds, Valkyrie and Lions for Lambs). With Tropic Thunder, the star seemed to be back in the position he clearly loves the most: in charge. Defying expectations (much as he was able to do with 1999′s Magnolia), he was able to gently nudge the public into thinking he, too, was in on the Tom Cruise joke. That perhaps he really is, as Judd Apatow once said, quietly one of the great comedic actors in the country.
Knight and Day takes this idea of peek-a-boo Cruise to the next level. The actor plays Roy Miller, a strangely ageless covert agent who may or may not have betrayed his agency, or been double-crossed himself. Cameron Diaz is the pricelessly named June Havens, who meets Roy kinda cute at the Wichita airport. (Side note: The filmmakers undoubtedly should have kept Wichita as the original title.) They’re on the same flight, of course, and as June brightly smiles at Roy, you can almost hear her optimistic thoughts about the handsome stranger paying her so much attention. But since this is a big-budget would-be blockbuster, June soon finds herself caught up in a zany global adventure, with the maybe murderous and psychotic-or maybe just hot and awesome!-Roy. He is either kidnapping her, protecting her or romancing her, who’s to say?
This movie will undoubtedly be compared to the Brangelina mashup Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and with good reason-it has the same combo of quips and physical tricks, the same somewhat overwhelming chemistry between its two leads. Say what you will about Vanilla Sky, but those few scenes between Ms. Diaz and Mr. Cruise crackled. It’s always nice to remember that Ms. Diaz has excellent comedic timing (Mary!), and a magical ability to intensify her blue eyes and dimples mid-scene.
But Knight and Day goes above and beyond other movies of its kind, being not only in on the joke of itself, but committed to going completely over the top. It’s so completely ludicrous (car chases, international train chases, tropical chases-and did I mention that Cameron Diaz’s character’s job is to fix up old cars? And that somehow she’s the same height as Mr. Cruise onscreen?) that you can’t help but be won over. It’s straight-up fun, hiding nothing about its intentions. How else to explain the (rather ingenious) device of having Ms. Diaz experience the most dangerous of their scrapes through fluttering-eyelid drugged-out sleep, catching only glimpses of Mr. Cruise in various stages of peril? She awakens in a bikini in the tropics; the next time in a perfectly fitted outfit in Austria. When did she eat? How did Roy Miller know what size she wore and how did she go to the bathroom?
These are silly, real-life questions that the movie will not stoop to answer. (Nor will it address some of the other quibbles I had, like Ms. Diaz’s part-time Boston accent, or Roy’s ability to make travel arrangements on the run.) Bonus: Peter Sarsgaard (doing his flat-voiced-delivery thing), Paul Dano and Viola Davis all show up for a few minutes. But it’s Tom Cruise’s picture. He is back to being a Movie Star, and he appears to be having an excellent time playing a character that’s maybe pathological and crazy, or maybe someone completely in control and using his crazy persona for the forces of good. Sound familiar?
Knight and Day
Running time 110 minutes
Written by Patrick O’Neill
Directed by James Mangold
Starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano, Viola Davis
2 Eyeballs out of 4