Loaded with top-shelf star power, inventive action, gorgeous locations, and scene after scene of fast-paced, bloodless gunplay, Knight and Day possesses all the key ingredients of a breezy summer hit. But like a pair of good-humored houseguests who just won't take a hint, stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz overstay their welcome just long enough so that the good memories are slightly tainted by the faint stench of mildew after that invigorating first gust dies down.
June Havens (Diaz) is preparing to board a flight back home for her sister's wedding when she literally bumps into Roy Miller (Cruise) in the middle of a busy airport. A few minutes later, they're making small talk on the plane when June excuses herself to the bathroom, and all hell breaks loose in the fuselage. By the time June emerges, Roy has killed everybody on board, including the pilots. After crash-landing the plane in a darkened cornfield, Roy tells June that she should expect a visit from government agents, but warns her that by cooperating with them she risks almost certain death. The following day, Roy's prediction comes true when June is confronted by an imposing gang of government spooks, who come under heavy fire while bombarding her with questions about her mysterious traveling companion. Suddenly, Roy is back, and he's once again whisking June away to safety. But what do the agents want, and why do they insist that Roy is the one to be feared, and not them? Before long the girl who never traveled far from home is off on a globe-trotting adventure that will take her from the tropics to Austria, France, and Spain. Somewhere amidst all of the confusion and gunfire, June begins to forge a bond with Roy. Unfortunately, it's never quite clear whether her unpredictable protector is one of the good guys or the bad guys, and by the time Roy reveals that he's attempting to protect a valuable new energy source, there's no time for questions.
By staging energetic action set pieces aboard planes and trains, in cars on crowded freeways, and even on a motorcycle during the running of the bulls, director James Mangold works overtime to give moviegoers something new in Knight and Day. And, for the most part, he succeeds fairly admirably; bullet for bullet, Knight and Day might just be your best bet for a fun time at the flicks in a summer of adrenalized disappointments. Refreshingly, Mangold and screenwriter Patrick O'Neill prove that Hollywood filmmakers needn't always mine comic books or classic television shows to produce a summertime thrill ride that delivers the goods -- a factor that gives Knight and Day a distinct advantage amidst the rising tide of nostalgia-influenced multiplex programming. That's not to say that anything in the actual plot of Knight and Day is exceptionally groundbreaking or original, just that any film brave enough to deviate from the current box-office trends is already working at a distinct advantage since the public has no point of reference on which to rest their expectations.
And Mangold makes this work to his advantage by toying with our perceptions and expectations just enough during the dialogue sequences to get us prepped for the next big action onslaught. Set against the backdrop of numerous exotic locales, those lively set pieces are made all the more watchable thanks to some impressive stunt work, and masterful cinematography by frequent Mangold collaborator Phedon Papamichael, who manages to capture the natural beauty of the film's many locations while never forgetting to keep the focus on the gunplay and chases.
These days, however, it's nearly impossible to wander into a movie completely devoid of expectations, and for many it will likely be the presence of polarizing Hollywood heavyweights Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz that could determine whether folks will lay down their hard-earned cash for Knight and Day. Though Cruise and Diaz's onscreen chemistry is hardly combustible enough to set the screen ablaze, Mangold keeps the story moving fast enough to ensure that even those who cringe at the sight of Cruise's über-confident smile aren't blinded by his pearly whites before the action kicks in again. And while the supporting performances are fairly standard for this sort of fare, Paul Dano does manage to make an impression as the socially awkward inventor at the center of the vast conspiracy, and Marc Blucas displays commendable comic timing in his brief yet memorable role as June's lovelorn ex.
If Knight and Day were just 20 minutes shorter, Mangold and company might have had the perfect popcorn flick on their hands. Instead what we get is a lightweight summer tent-pole that hits all the right notes, but just holds them for a few beats too long.