Tom Cruise leaps back into action in "Knight and Day"

  • Robert Horton, Herald Movie Critic
  • Tuesday, June 22, 2010 10:36pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Whatever you say about “Knight and Day,” the lightweight Tom Cruise summer action picture, you can’t argue with one thing: It is, undeniably and indisputably, a lightweight Tom Cruise summer action picture.

Cruise hasn’t actually done one of those since “Mission: Impossible III” in 2006, so the movie has an interesting throwback quality to it. It’s like visiting a restaurant you once ate at regularly but somehow fell out of the habit of visiting for a while — the food brings back old memories even if your tastes have changed.

That feeling is very much present in the fun early reels of “Knight and Day,” which has Cruise as mystery man Roy Miller (a secret agent of some kind?) bumping into an innocent bystander, June (Cameron Diaz), at an airport.

The two of them get on the same weirdly depopulated airplane, at which point we suspect that something odd is going on around Roy. A funny-violent sequence follows, and then an abrupt landing in a rural cornfield.

Perhaps that cornfield is meant to echo a similar location in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest,” or perhaps not. But the Hitchcock classic is the movie “Knight and Day” would most like to be, with its blend of twisty action, romance and comedy.

That plane in the cornfield is also an early signal that “Knight and Day” is not going to worry too much about plausibility. Which is actually just fine. It’s a lightweight Tom Cruise summer action picture, remember?

As the movie advances in a pleasantly globe-trotting way (Salzburg and Seville are among the ports of call), it strains a bit to keep the balance between comedy and action, and the action gets overblown — not “A-Team” overblown, but enough, already.

Up to this point in his career, director James Mangold hasn’t been known for his comic touch (he did “I Walk the Line” and “3:10 to Yuma”), and, come to think of it, neither has Cruise. But Cruise hits the right cheeky attitude here, especially when calmly explaining the plot to Diaz’s confused character.

Cameron Diaz hasn’t been this sunny and goofy in a while, and she makes the most of a peculiar running gag that has June unconscious on a regular basis.

The other actors — Peter Sarsgaard and Viola Davis as government agents, and Paul Dano (the young preacher from “There Will Be Blood”) as a genius inventor whose gizmo is the film’s Maguffin — are pretty much background material.

The secret of this kind of movie is to make it all look effortless, and on that score “Knight and Day” falls short. But it has its moments, and with the breezy Tom Cruise vibe in abundance, you could almost mistake the moviegoing experience for a summer night at the multiplex in 1988.

“Knight and Day,” two and a half stars

Mystery man Tom Cruise brings innocent bystander Cameron Diaz into a secret agent-related globe-trotting caper. It feels like a throwback to an earlier era of Cruise vehicles.

Rated: PG-13 for violence.

Showing: Everett, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Metro, Thornton Place Stadium, Cascade Mall.

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