Knight and Day

Don’t tell Tom one of his hairs is out of place.

Don’t tell Tom one of his hairs is out of place.

Rated 3.0

If Hollywood insists on grinding out big, flashy action comedies with damn-the-logic stories and all the to-hell-with-the-laws-of-physics action that a gazillion dollars’ worth of CGI can whip up, then they should all be as much fun as Knight and Day.

The “knight” of the punning title refers to a little toy figurine Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) picks up in an airport shop as he coolly stalks the unsuspecting June Havens (Cameron Diaz), engineering a couple of seemingly chance bump-ins at various spots around the terminal. The toy knight is where Roy chooses to hide Zephyr, the thing all the action in the next couple of hours will be all about; it’s what Alfred Hitchcock used to call the “maguffin,” the thing everybody in the movie wants. “Knight” turns out to have another meaning as well, but that one doesn’t surface until late in the complicated tale. Don’t bother asking what “day” means.

In fact, it’s best not to ask many questions at all as director James Mangold and writer Patrick O’Neill whip us around the world on a moment’s notice, dropping the calculating Roy and the bewildered June in one pot of boiling water after another. The kind of whoa-now twists and turns that are exasperating and irritating signs of desperation in some movies can be giddy and exhilarating when served up with the right mix of audacity and aplomb, and Mangold (whose uneven career has veered from Kate & Leopold and Identity to Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma) gets the recipe pretty close to just right this time out.

As the story opens, June is on her way home to Boston from Wichita, Kansas, lugging a suitcase full of hard-to-find auto parts to use in her business of restoring classic cars. When Roy jostles her the first time, it’s to secretly stash the Zephyr among all that scrap metal in her luggage; the second time is to get it back after she’s carted it through security. Then June is bumped from her flight, and Roy cryptically tells her, “Sometimes things happen for a reason.”

Meanwhile, outside in one of those black surveillance vans that always turn up in movies like this, someone who is watching Roy—we later learn that his name is Fitzgerald, and he’s played by Peter Sarsgaard—punches a few buttons and gets June on the flight to Boston after all. It’s a near-empty plane that leaves the ground; besides Roy and June, there are only a handful of passengers, all of whom, including the flight crew, try to kill Roy while June is in the lavatory. They all wind up dead themselves, and June emerges to find the cabin strewn with corpses and the plane in a steep dive. Roy crash-lands the plane in a cornfield, lugs June clear of the wreckage and feeds her a strong sedative.

As she plunges into unconsciousness, he warns her: “When you come to, some very bad people are going to tell you some very convincing lies about me. Don’t believe them, and don’t get into any vehicle with them. They’re only going to kill you.” June wakes up in her own bed back home in Boston.

Sure enough, Fitzgerald soon tells June that Roy is a rogue secret agent, and he (Fitzgerald) and his cohorts are going to take June somewhere safe. Before June can find out if Roy was right about the rest of it, Roy intervenes and rescues her from their clutches—or snatches her from their protection, take your pick. Roy says he’s not the rogue, Fitzgerald is, and he (Roy) is being framed. All this is about Zephyr, a tiny superbattery concocted by a teenage genius named Simon Feck (Paul Dano) that can power a small city. It’s a national-security secret, and dark foreign forces want to get their hands on both it and Simon. Fitzgerald is working for them, and Roy is protecting Simon. Or is it the other way around?

Well, it goes on like that. As Hitchcock-and-bull stories go, this one is pretty long on the cock-and-bull and admittedly short on the Hitchcock. It’s essentially a ramped-up variation on Charade (which someone once called the best Hitchcock movie Hitchcock never made). It substitutes wild contrivance for Charade’s cleverness, and over-the-top action for suspense, but Mangold keeps spirits high and the touch light, and the core of star appeal is the same—Cruise and Diaz this time, nicely stepping in for Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.