June 24 2010 12:00 AM

Can Knight rescue Cruise and Diaz?


In 2001, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz played friends with benefits in director Cameron Crowes 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 Charlies Angels and the first Shrek. Although its nightmarish plot mystified viewers, Sky did impressive business, largely due to Cruise and Diazs 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. Cruises whirlwind marriage to Katie Holmes and his repeated public endorsements of Scientology didnt go over well with many of his longtime fans, who didnt turn up for Mission: Impossible III, Lions for Lambs or Valkyrie, none of which reached blockbuster status.

Diaz hasnt been a hot streak lately, either: The Box closed quickly after it opened last fall, and My Sisters 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 pictures 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: Theres 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; theyre 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. Theres something odd about the way Roy talks to June, but shes completely captivated until their journey together takes a dark detour.

Although the beginning of Knight lays the groundwork for a sophisticated spy spoof, Patrick ONeills 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 its 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 wouldnt kick yourself afterward.

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

For reviews see Cole Smitheys Movie Week at www.lansingcitypulse.com/movies