His Les Grossman role in Tropic Thunder aside, Tom Cruise doesn't go out on larks nearly often enough: Even in his action movies, such as War of the Worlds and Mission: Impossible, he has a serious intensity, even though he's much more fun to watch when he's having a good time.
So it's good to see Cruise having a high old time in Knight and Day as Roy Miller, a mystery man who may be a CIA operative, may have gone rogue or may be just plain crazy. All of Cruise's acting tics are there: the cocked head, the alert eyes, the broad smile, the urgent, hyperactive way of talking. They all fit Roy well, and Cruise has seldom looked this relaxed, even when he's in the middle of fistfights or gunfights. No doubt this role took a lot of work, but Cruise makes it look effortless.
Making something look effortless is different from making it look like you made no effort, and Knight and Day's biggest problem is Patrick O'Neill's screenplay, which feels lazy right from its lame-pun title. (Knight is explained; Day really isn't.) O'Neill, an actor who has appeared in several John Cusack movies, may have been aiming for a tribute to or sendup of the many movies in which some "ordinary" woman gets mixed up with some dangerous guy, but aside from some dashes of humor, what comes off in Knight and Day is a near-complete lack of originality.
The movie gives us not one but two meet-cutes between Roy and June Havens (Cameron Diaz), who bump into each other at an airport twice within the first five minutes. O'Neill doesn't give June a lot of background, other than that she helps her dad restore classic cars and she's headed to her sister's wedding. But when she gets on a plane with Roy and they seem to hit it off, her life changes into a globe-trotting adventure.
Diaz and Cruise have worked together before, most notably in 2001's much-maligned (and misunderstood) Vanilla Sky, and as in that movie, Knight and Day has the duo spending much of their time together in speeding cars. Their chemistry carries the movie, which goes from making little sense to not really making any sense at all as June goes from panic-prone tag-along to quick-witted accomplice in less time than it takes most people to learn how to drive. Peter Sarsgaard, as their main pursuer, does what he can with an underwritten role, but at least he has more to do than Viola Davis, who's saddled with playing Sarsgaard's authoritarian boss.
Director James Mangold, apparently aware of how thin the screenplay is, handles everything with winking briskness, shooting his stars lovingly and keeping things moving so quickly that you really don't have time to think about -- or mind -- how absurd the story is. The result is a movie that's disposable, but enjoyable in spite of itself. With his 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma, Mangold showed how to do a genre piece without making it generic; with a big assist from Cruise and Diaz, he shows in Knight and Day how you can make something generic look better merely by attaching a couple of brand names.
ROBERT PHILPOT, 817-390-7872