Film » Screens

Murder by Numbers

Tom Cruise fires up another throwaway summer action flick

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Knight and Day almost sounds as if it could be the title of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio's long-percolating Frank Sinatra biopic. Not that anyone will confuse James Mangold's aggressively featherweight action adventure with a Scorsese joint. This ain't that kind of party.

Knight and Day is the kind of movie that promotes attention deficit disorder. It's cobbled together out of stray parts from a slew of previous, mostly better movies: North by Northwest (the standard-bearer for this type of escapist fluff), Romancing the Stone, Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible flicks, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Groundhog Day, and even Bruce Willis' under-loved Hudson Hawk are just a few of the movies liberally quoted here.

The MacGuffin propelling Patrick O'Neill's connect-the-dots script is a super-strength new battery codenamed "The Zephyr." Cruise's rogue agent Roy Miller wants to protect the contraption and its dweebish, Hall & Oates-loving inventor (Paul Dano) from his former agency bosses (the overqualified Viola Davis and Peter Sarsgaard) and a slew of Euro weapons manufacturers. Cameron Diaz is the cutie Roy uses as a mule to help get through airport security then can't quite seem to shake, possibly because the studio felt it needed a female star to help lure women into the theater. In case you hadn't noticed, Cruise — looking every day of his 48 years — isn't quite the box-office draw he used to be.

For a movie that strains for jovial lightheartedness, the pileup of corpses strikes a vaguely discordant note. The impersonality of the onscreen killings — and there are a lot of them — nearly achieves a Rambo-esque level of nihilism. As a check-your-brain-at-the-door hot-weather throwaway, Knight and Day could have been a lot worse. But like every Mangold film to date — even the better ones, like 3:10 to Yuma and Walk the Line — it lacks any distinctive personality or style. Any reasonably competent craftsman (say, Doug Liman or Nimrod Antal) could have directed it and nobody would have been able to tell the difference. That cookie-cutter anonymity is probably why you'll forget most of the plot particulars before hitting the parking lot.

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