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Knight and Day: No Sparks, No Wit, Too Bad

I had never before been alone with genuine movie stars until last week, when Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and I met in a Great Barrington theater.  Undaunted by the empty seats, they filled the screen with glowing good health — Cruise at 47 is sexier than ever, with muscles and abs of iron, while Diaz radiates girl-next-door charm and beauty — and rushed from one cliff-edge situation to the next in a seemingly endless effort to entertain me.  

   And I repaid them by checking my watch.

    “Knight and Day” (Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz), the gorgeous duo’s just-released summer “blockbuster” film, is a ridiculous stab at action-comedy — like the execrable “Killers” or the sizzling “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”  But director James Mangold, honored for such pictures as “Walk the Line” and “3:10 to Yuma,” has no apparent talent for breakneck action and the poetic choreography that can overcome silly plots, absurd scripts and comic book characters.

   Instead, he strings together a series of frantic action scenes — a plane crash, car and helicopter chases, brushes with real danger — that have been sophomorically computer-generated.  And when the suspension of disbelief is insurmountable, even for him, Mangold resorts to that lazy directorial magic:  he blacks out and moves on. (Oh, how did dear Tom get out of that rope as he was hanging upside down and swinging like a pendulum courtesy the bad guys?  Black out.)

   Cruise plays Roy Miller (or someone called Roy Miller,) a C.I.A. agent on the run from accusations of “going rogue.”  He is trying to protect a nerdy young man (Paul Dano) and his invention, a little battery with enough juice to power whole cities.  He (intentionally?) collides with June Havens (Diaz), a young female auto mechanic about to fly from Wichita (where else?) to Boston for her sister’s wedding. Soon she is trying to escape both the C.I.A. (Peter Sarsgaard with an I-am-a-villain accent) and his boss (Viola Davis in heavy moisturizer with little to do) and the really bad guys.

   This hackneyed plot might have been OK if there were any chemistry between Cruise and Diaz. She spends the first half of the movie alternately fantasizing about him (just watch her spray both breath and boobs — presumably from different bottles — in an airplane restroom while he is killing everyone else on board) and trying to get away from him.  She squeaks, squeals and shuts her eyes. Then in the second half she is the intrepid partner in flight and sexy femme fatale.

   As for Cruise, he glowers, smiles (yes, the smile will still melt a stone goddess), looks quizzical and apologizes to victims he shoots strategically but lets live (Diaz’s putative boyfriend, for instance).  “I’m the guy,” he says in a memorable line.  But sparks between the two?  Few.  He mostly tilts his head and looks faintly amused and mostly uninterested in her advances:  Drugged by the really bad guys, she purrs, “I feel like having sex.”  “Did they give you something?” he asks.  “Yes.”  “Hydrate,” he orders.

   So much for sparks.  Give me Brangelina.

   What makes “Knight and Day” so bad is that it could have been a delightful, romantic parody of real action movies, like the James Bond films.  Instead there is no wit, tension or artful storytelling.  No sexual frisson or comedy.  (Five minutes with Gable and Colbert is more seductive than two hours with these two.)  The characters speed from location to location as the ragged storyline just peters out.  And even that seems to take forever.

“Knight and Day” is playing at the Triplex in Great Barrington, MA. It is rated PG-13 for a high body count, and sexual suggestiveness and innuendo (although there is little skin and no sexual congress). Alas.

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