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Knight and Day (James Mangold, 2010)
Something of a subgenre unto itself, the romantic spy-thriller always walks the line between offering starpower for its own sake and plot-driven espionage action. Almost by definition, these films rely on absurd, implausible chaos, grounded only by the kindling of new love. James Mangold's Knight and Day confidently embraces that absurdity. Featuring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz as a spy on the lam and the girl by his side, the movie casts its bet that its big stars will be able to ground the big action that surrounds them. For the most part, the gamble pays off.
Coasting by on superficial wit, the James Mangold-directed Knight and Day by no means compares with Stanley Donen's Charade, Hitchock's North By Northwest, or even James Cameron's True Lies, as a top-notch film of this type, but it works as well as anything released in recent years as a mindless summer action movie. For viewers able to accept its fundamental silliness, Knight and Day will offer plenty of unpretentious, forgettable entertainment. Though there's a more sophisticated movie trying to get out here, it never does, which is somewhat unfortunate, but ultimately not damning. That Mangold fails to spin his spy plot into much of a metaphor for its leads' burgeoning relationship, or anything at all, is at once a missed opportunity and a suggestion that its intentions lie elsewhere.
In a film like this, in which the lead actors seem to be having a great deal of fun, the effect can be contagious enough for viewers to temporarily forget any shortcomings or missed opportunities. Knight and Day's winning lead performances generate laughs and chemistry at near every turn. Cruise's reputation as an action hero and his goofy grin are major assets here, and Diaz's easygoing likeability and prowess at physical comedy serve her equally well. Both are well within their comfort zones, turning them into enablers of the ridiculous plot. They each feel like they are in on the joke that is this movie, and that helps us to laugh with them, instead of at them. Though Knight and Day could have stood to be a bit sexier, calmer, or smarter, to be sure, it is never less than light on its feet, even as its body count climbs into the dozens.