Tom Cruise spends much of Knight and Day looking as if he's waiting for someone to pour casting mold over his head to make an action figure. When he's not flashing a blindingly fake grin, he's sporting a variation on the "Blue Steel'' look Ben Stiller perfected in Zoolander. Cruise's co-star, Cameron Diaz, fares better, because the movie requires her to shriek and wave her arms around a lot, which she's good at, and to walk around in a bikini or a yellow bridesmaid dress and black cowboy boots, a combo she really sells.
Too bad, though, that whenever characters stand still to talk, Knight and Day induces a fetal-curl stupor in the viewer. And the action scenes, which are intentionally preposterous and over the top and meant to be borderline comical, are just ridiculous. A motorcycle chase through the streets of Spain during the running of the bulls is a great idea. A motorcycle chase through the streets of Spain during the running of computer-generated bulls is not a great idea.
There is a sequence early on involving speeding trucks, vans, motorcycles and a tunnel that had the potential to be a mini-classic. Director James Mangold (Walk the Line) stages the action so things happen unexpectedly at the edge of the frame, startling you - except that most of it looks like a video game. When Diaz verbally references Grand Theft Auto, she's not kidding.
There are so many CG and green-screen effects in Knight and Day, the movie could almost pass for Sin City II. In one scene, Cruise and Diaz are driving in a car having a conversation, and the exteriors through the windows look so fake you wonder if Mangold wasn't paying homage to Hitchcock's love for rear projection. He's not, though.
The only thing Knight and Day pays homage to is Cruise's enormous ego, who apparently believes audiences would want to watch him in roles like this one. Cruise is playing a character who is essentially unplayable: Roy Miller, a super-super secret agent who makes 007 look like a playground sissy. Roy can outrun computer-generated jets. He can fly computer-generated planes, He can magically transport unconscious people from the middle of remote wheat fields into the safety of their bedrooms, and he can anticipate every move his opponents make, as if he had ESP. Roy, who may or may not be crazy, even appears to be immortal: In one scene, we see him riddled by bullets and falling into a river, and then he shows up a few scenes later, unscratched and unhurt, with no explanation as to how he survived.
I know Knight and Day is not intended to be the sort of movie in which logic plays much of a role. But the chemistry between Cruise and Diaz is nonexistent (there's a reason why Cameron Crowe cast them as bitter exes in Vanilla Sky). Cruise's considerable magnetism has utterly abandoned him - anybody could be playing Roy - and without any character to engage the viewer, the film becomes a long slog through slick, noisy emptiness.
And I mean noisy. In one scene, Diaz, who plays a gearhead who specializes in restoring old cars, is handed a machine-gun by Cruise so she can defend herself against baddies. Suddenly, without explanation, she starts shrieking, holding the trigger down and waving the weapon around like a marching baton, spraying bullets everywhere. Diaz can play a lot of roles, but screaming ninnies don't suit her. Neither does this movie.
Knight and Day (* out of ****) opens in South Florida on Wednesday June 23.