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Thursday, June 24,2010

The Screening Room

Can 'Knight' rescue Cruise and Diaz?

by James Sanford

In 2001, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz played friends with benefits in director Cameron Crowe's surrealistic psychodrama 'Vanilla Sky.' At the time, both stars were riding high: Cruise had just starred in 'Mission: Impossible II,' while Diaz was fresh from 'Charlie's Angels' and the first 'Shrek.' Although its nightmarish plot mystified viewers, 'Sky' did impressive business, largely due to Cruise and Diaz's box office allure. (Co-star Penelope Cruz had yet to establish herself with American audiences.)

Almost a decade later, Cruise and Diaz are together again in 'Knight and Day.' But both have endured somewhat bumpy relationships with moviegoers in the years since 'Sky.' Cruise's whirlwind marriage to Katie Holmes and his repeated public endorsements of Scientology didn't go over well with many of his longtime fans, who didn't turn up for 'Mission: Impossible III,' 'Lions for Lambs' or 'Valkyrie,' none of which reached blockbuster status.

Diaz hasn't been a hot streak lately, either: 'The Box' closed quickly after it opened last fall, and 'My Sister's Keeper,' which Warner Bros. had hoped would be a sleeper along the lines of 'The Notebook,' did respectable but unspectacular business last June.

So both stars are hungry for a hit, and so is distributor 20th Century Fox, which saw its first two June releases ' 'Marmaduke' and 'The A Team' ' quickly turn into highprofile underachievers.

To enhance the picture's profile, Fox held nationwide sneaks of "Knight" last Saturday, something not often done for a film with sestablished stars.

If nothing else, 'Knight and Day' does a workman-like job of showcasing Diaz and Cruise as comic actors, as action figures and as sex symbols: There's a lengthy, completely superfluous scene on a tropical beach that exists solely to allow the duo to parade around in flattering swimwear. The movie is one of those comedy/thriller/travelogue packages that uses espionage (in this case, a race to secure an ultra-powerful battery that 'could power a small city') as an excuse to put Cruise and Diaz in an assortment of opulent locations. They slink through Salzburg; they inadvertently run with the bulls in the streets of Spain; they're responsible for murder on the Orient Express, etc.

The picture opens as auto restoration specialist June (Diaz) encounters charming yet cryptic Roy (Cruise) in the process of boarding a flight to Boston. There's something odd about the way Roy talks to June, but she's completely captivated ' until their journey together takes a dark detour.

Although the beginning of 'Knight' lays the groundwork for a sophisticated spy spoof, Patrick O'Neill's screenplay eventually opts for explosions, acrobatic car chases, plane crashes and similar CGIconjured calamities that keep Diaz and Cruise on the run while trying to distract the audience from a predictable plot.

Although it's not terribly funny or exciting, 'Knight' is easy to watch, and director James Mangold gives the film a slick surface and a breezy pace. If you had a couple of hours to kill on a summer afternoon and you bought a ticket to 'Knight,' you probably wouldn't kick yourself afterward.

Now, the question becomes how many moviegoers will bypass 'Toy Story 3' or Adam Sandler's upcoming 'Grown Ups' to see Cruise and Diaz do their thing. I know if that calendar date was 2001 instead of 2010, I'd have a lot more confidence in 'Knight and Day's' chances at the ticket counter.

For reviews see Cole Smithey's Movie Week at www.lansingcitypulse.com/movies


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