Movie review of 'Knight and Day'

YOU HAD ME AT BANG: Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise delight in the action-romance flick.
YOU HAD ME AT BANG: Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise delight in the action-romance flick. (Frank Masi/associated Press)
By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Roy Miller is, in his own words, good at what he does.

He isn't bragging. If anything, the secret agent played by Tom Cruise in the utterly delightful action film/romcom "Knight and Day" is probably selling himself short. A master of hand-to-hand combat who can put a bullet exactly where he wants it -- shooting someone in the leg to immobilize him while avoiding the femoral artery so as not to kill him -- he's also unfailingly polite when, on the rare occasion, he goes too far.

"Sorry," he tells an innocent bystander he has just decked, with the lightning-quick reflexes of a ninja. "I thought you were making a move."

It's no wonder June Havens (Cameron Diaz) falls for him when they meet on her flight from Wichita to Boston. He's cute, charming, smart, funny and almost freakishly competent. Too bad that trouble, in the form of gun-toting government agents and an arms dealer's ruthless henchmen, are following him -- and now her -- all over the globe as Roy tries to protect a nebbishy inventor (Paul Dano), and keep his top-secret invention out of the wrong hands.

But exactly whose are the wrong hands?

According to the feds who are chasing him (led by Peter Sarsgaard and Viola Davis), it's Roy who's the bad guy: an unstable, untrustworthy rogue agent. While Cruise was born to play the part -- a modern-day MacGyver who, by his own admission, has been trained to dismantle a bomb in the dark "with nothing but a safety pin and some Junior Mints" -- it also seems just possible that the guy might be ever so slightly deranged. The actor's couch-jumping, Scientology-pumping past actually helps here, add a layer of unpredictability to a character who, in almost every other aspect, is a kind of Superman.

Forget Roy's martial arts expertise. Nobody, particularly at 47, should have abs that look that good when he takes his shirt off (which is often).

But this isn't just "The Tom Cruise Show." As an ordinary woman inadvertently caught up in a world of jet-setting espionage, Diaz makes a delicious comedic and romantic foil to Cruise's Roy. Yes, at first she's a little freaked out by the number of people who are dropping like flies all around him -- Roy's aim is deadly when he wants it to be -- but she soon shows herself to be a capable partner. "You've got skills, June," Roy tells her admiringly after she shoots out the tires of a pursuing car.

Compare her performance to that of Katherine Heigl's ditz in the similarly themed "Killers." Diaz is no damsel in distress here. And her gumption lends fizz to an already effervescent production.

It helps that the script by Patrick O'Neill is as lively as the action. Roy's schmoozing patter is a mix of cheesy small talk and spy-movie cliches: "Open the door, June," he shouts, while clinging to the windshield of the speeding car she's driving. "Beautiful dress, by the way," he adds.

Roy's unflappability is a thing of wonder, but it's also the source of much of the film's humor. "Knight and Day," you see, isn't just another "romaction" hybrid. It's both straight-faced spy film and sly spy spoof. That's a difficult balancing act, but director James Mangold ("3:10 to Yuma") gets it exactly right. He lets us in on the joke, even as he lets us enjoy every thrill-packed minute of the ride.

Knight and Day

* * *

109 minutes, at area theaters, is rated PG-13 for action violence, mild obscenity and brief suggestive humor.

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