Once in a while, a film comes around that is so witty and original that you wonder why nobody had thought it up before. A film that makes you sit up and say, “yes –this is what a movie should be! Why can’t more movies be like this!” Unfortunately, Knight and Day is not one of those films.

It is, however, a perfectly adequate thriller-comedy, and for the most part it’s very entertaining. Tom Cruise stars as Roy Miller, a charismatic secret agent trying to clear his name while keeping safe a much sought-after macguffin in the form of a small battery that gives off perpetual energy. But when Roy bumps into everygirl auto-enthusiast June (Cameron Diaz) as they prepare to board the same plane, his neat one-man operation finds itself suddenly toting some serious carry-on baggage. And while Cruise and Diaz are able to play off of each to great comic effect, the film isn’t able to fulfill a lot of its potential.

Remember 2006’s I Spy? With Owen Wilson and Eddie Murphy? It was advertised as a comedy, but you’d never hear anyone say, “oh, man… I peed myself laughing at I Spy!” It had its funny moments, but it was so focused on its ubiquitous thriller plot that the comedy took a back seat to car chases and knife fights. It’s advertised as a comedy masquerading as a spy thriller, when in reality it’s the other way around. Knight and Day makes the same mistake, but to a lesser degree. While it has the same thriller backbone, it manipulates the scenes that we’ve all seen a million times into funnier incarnations of themselves. Take this for example: Cameron Diaz’s character is injected with a truth serum a la pretty much every other spy flick spoof. But evil henchman #1 lets slip that the serum is still being tested, with the reason soon overtly clear – its primary side effect is uncontrollable horniness. Had this been an Austin Powers movie, no doubt something crude would have immediately followed. But Knight and Day continues to play out the classic ‘rescue heroine from baddie’s stronghold’ scene, only with said heroine bluntly expressing her rapidly mounting sexual frustration (remember, it’s a truth serum and an aphrodisiac).

The James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) film loses its touch at times when it thinks its groundbreaking. Maybe some day directors will learn that a lot of these Hollywood conventions are doing more harm than good to their films. A car chase through the cobblestone alleys of a nameless European country is still a car chase through the cobblestone alleys of a nameless European country no matter how shiny and expensive-looking the cars are. Find a different vessel for your humor, or at least work in some satirical humor about the overused chase scene archetype while those jokes are still funny.

Cruise and Diaz are surprisingly funny when paired together. They both hold their own very well, and develop their characters to nicely counterpoint each other. It’s this juxtaposition that fuels most of the film’s comedy. Tom Cruise’s performance as an absurdly pleasant (think ‘Smiling Bob’ the Enzyte guy) secret agent is lots of fun, but it wouldn’t be half as funny if Cameron Diaz were just as calm and collected. But as she’s freaking out, under a hail of gunfire from enemy agents, Cruise’s lackadaisical under-reaction becomes hilarious in comparison. The two actors are able to play off each other so brilliantly; that what happens next is near inexcusable. Mangold splits them up for about a third of the film. Without their brilliantly bipolar banter, it was quickly apparent just how little else the film had going for it. The plot was stock, the characters unoriginal, the effects average, the score forgettable… What makes Knight and Day so fun is the chemistry between these two absurdly opposite characters, forced into absurdly cinematic situations by the absurdly cinematic plot. And when it lost the characters, it lost me with them.

If you go into Knight and Day not expecting much, you will be pleasantly surprised. Tom Cruise, who is always charismatic in his roles, somehow outdoes himself. And whether or not you’re a fan of Cameron Diaz, you will end up liking her by the end. Be sure to keep an eye out for a mullet-headed Paul Dano, making the most of his short screen time. At 110 minutes, Knight and Day is a nice, straightforward summer comedy that, if nothing else, will keep you entertained all the way through.

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