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Cruising for a bruising with Tom & Cameron

There's a lot to like about "Knight and Day," the high-octane starring vehicle for Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.

The source material is the first element to admire.  This fast-paced three-step with romance, danger and comedy didn't evolve from someone's novel, or leap over tall buildings to get to the movie house from a comic book.  It didn't even morph from some computer geek's video game.

"Knight and Day" found life in something called a movie script.  Novel idea, that.

Screenwriter Patrick O'Neill, a former TV writer ("Dead Last"), came up with the story; a globe-trotting action-comedy about a mysterious secret agent who may or may not be the good guy and a civilian sucked into fast-paced, bullet-dodging danger via a seemingly random collision with a handsome stranger at an airport.

June Havens (Diaz) boards a plane in Wichita, Kan. to attend her sister's wedding in Boston.  That guy with the wide grin and the sunglasses from the earlier encounter is flirting a little with her.  So June excuses herself to go to the lavatory to sort things out.

When she returns to her seat, Roy Miller (Cruise), the suave guy, offers her a drink and the news that everyone on the plane is dead, including the pilots, and they are about to have an up-close and personal look at the cornfields of Indiana.

What follows is a series of spectacular action set pieces at various take-your-breath-away locales around the world from Austria to Seville.  The bad guys (or the real good guys?)  led by CIA agent Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard of "An Education") and Roy shoot it out and duke it out for control of a new, high-tech energy source.  

As if it's not enough to bring in Paul Dano (the brooding teen of "Little Miss Sunshine") as Simon, the brilliant young inventor, "Knight and Day" throws in Spanish star Jordi Mollà ("Blow," "Bad Boys II") as Antonio, a weapons kingpin.

With homage to classic globe-hopping adventures like "North by Northwest" and "Charade," "Knight and Day" goes through the exotic motions with a light heart and an itchy trigger-finger.

We can thank very good director James Mangold for the fact that it works.  Mangold injected vibrant new life into both the musical biopic and the Western with "Walk the Line" in 2005 and "3:10 to Yuma" two years later.  There's no secret ingredient to making a film like this work.  Just pair up two exceptional movie stars and hope that when you light the chemistry dynamite it goes off.

That formula only half-ignited when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie stepped in front of the camera as a bored married couple who (unbeknownst to each other) were also highly trained assassins in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (2005). 

Cruise and Diaz shared the screen in the decidedly different sci-fi thriller  "Vanilla Sky" in 2001.  They have a delicious rapport in this one.  They go about their sometimes silly business as the seasoned professionals they are.  I could do without the "varooming with the bulls" scene where Cruise (who loves to hop a Harley in his movies) and Diaz flee a stampede on a motorcycle.

Otherwise, "Knight and Day" rocks as a very good date movie with fast-action for the guys and romance for the ladies.


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