In ‘Knight and Day,’ Tom Cruise takes us back to a younger Tom

Posted: June 22, 2010

"Knight and Day" is by no means a period piece, but it's certainly dated - another '80s flashback, this time to the Classic Coke version of Tom Cruise.

Watching "Knight and Day" is like watching the Greatest Hits of '80s Tom. He pushes his shades down the bridge of his nose and peers over the lenses, Vogue-ing the poster for "Risky Business." Jumps on a motorcycle "Top Gun"-style, co-star in tow. Does some daredevil driving à la "Days of Thunder," with a war whoop and breezy smile. (OK, that was 1990. But still.)

The filmmakers refrain from asking their star to juggle vodka bottles, but this is definitely Members Only Tom. Cocky, confident, forever maverick - a return to the days when skies were blue, it was morning in America, and box office was on Cruise control.

Only the co-stars have changed. We now have Cameron Diaz (instead of Kelly McGillis) sitting astride Tom's cycle and wrapping her arms around his chest.

Whatever happened to McGillis? She aged, as do many human beings. Cruise, on the other hand, still looks a few days shy of graduating from his "TAPS" military academy.

In "Knight and Day," he's Roy, a superspy who in the busy first act rescues June (Cameron Diaz) from a crashing plane, a crashing bore (Marc Blucas), and the unspeakable emptiness of life without Tom Cruise.

Roy's on a dangerous mission, Diaz is the ordinary gal caught up in it, and "K&D" aspires to high-glam screwball escapism as it rushes from one country and action spectacle to the next.

June is meant to evolve from passive bystander to action heroine, but it's slow to take hold. Her job, mostly, is to be awestruck by Roy's bravado and athleticism, to describe Roy as brave and athletic when he's off camera, and to scream when bad guys try to kill her.

How thankless is this role? She's such a lump that Roy actually drugs her to get her from one place to another, a "joke" that never shakes its fundamental creepiness.

In one scene the heavily roofied June opens her eyes to see shirtless Roy emerge from the water holding a spear gun and a fish, prelude to a moment when she's drugged with truth serum and moved to confess her carnal desire for Roy.

After awhile, you conclude that Diaz is not really Cruise's co-star here, she's his publicist. Ill-treated, hauled from Europe to the Azores to America like luggage, but steadfastly on hand to boost the star's image.

The '80s vibe here extends to gender roles. There is none of the couples power-sharing that made "Mr. And Mrs. Smith" a hit, with its amusing way of looking at modern two-career marriage.

And, if it's a date movie, shouldn't there be some quid pro dude?

Something for us guys?

Those looking for the bubbly, cheerful, lithe knockout of "There's Something about Mary" will be disappointed in the "K&D" Diaz.

Here, she looks like somebody who is interfering with Tom's lighting. Does anybody know how to photograph women anymore? Well, yes. The guy who shoots "Legend of the Seeker," which I watch every Sunday evening, pretending to share my son's love of the fantasy genre.

Anybody else, American Society of Cinematographers?

Digital photography has not been kind to female leads, especially "older" women, but Diaz isn't old. She's still perfectly lovely, so there's no excusing the lacquered spray tan sheen she wears in "K&D." Joan Crawford would have killed and eaten any camera operator who made her look like this.

As for chemistry, well, Cruise and Diaz are every bit as electrifying as they were in "Vanilla Sky."

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