'Knight and Day': Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz star as a fugitive couple

( PG-13 ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

'Knight and Day' stars Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise in this high-energy action comedy.

Frank Masi/20th Century Fox/AP
'Knight and Day' debuts Wednesday night.

While watching the new Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz spy thriller “Knight and Day,” I kept flashing back to Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” and Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Stanley Donen’s “Charade,” the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made.

This is not surprising, since “Knight and Day,” directed by James Mangold and written by Patrick O’Neill, draws heavily on both of them. But, ah – what a difference. Those movies had a deftness and wit that propelled the action and enhanced the romance.

“Knight and Day,” as is true of just about every movie these days that has a gun in it, is a supersized kid pic. It’s easier to sit through than, say, “The A-Team,” which was even louder and made even less sense. (In other words, it made no sense.) But as Cruise and Diaz kept dodging and trading bullets – and knives and rocket launchers and grenades – I couldn’t help wondering: With all the money expended on this movie, couldn’t anybody come up with a few good lines in between all the kabooms?

Cruise plays Roy Miller, a secret agent who has supposedly gone rogue. We are first introduced to him as he flirts with a fellow passenger, June Havens (Diaz), on a near-empty jetliner from which he soon methodically wipes out the flight crew. Taking over the controls, he crash-lands in a cornfield (pale shades of “North by Northwest.”)

Roy is an amalgam of Cruise’s Ethan Hunt from the “Mission Impossible” movies with a little Jason Bourne thrown in. In other words, he’s a pastiche of a pastiche. As always, Cruise plays these parts as if, even in repose, he was doing heavy calisthenics. He’s exhaustingly avid, which doesn’t help the romance much. He’s more interested in his own energy than his costar’s.

Diaz is stuck playing the lovely-daffy damsel in distress, as the action shifts from Boston to the Austrian Alps to Sevilla, Spain. She gets in a few good punches of her own, as the duo is pursued by the CIA and the FBI and international weapons dealers and, for all I know, the Keystone Kops. By giving as good as she gets, June is not-so-convincingly transformed into a curious combo: a feminist snuggle bunny.

Maybe the filmmakers were tired of seeing Angelina Jolie mow down the opposition cyborg-style. Diaz turns on the waifish charm despite dialogue that curdles in mid-sentence. I sympathized more with the actress’s plight than with June’s.

Even a good no-brainer action movie requires brains to make. It’s been a long time since a big Hollywood escapade had a satisfying story, but “Knight and Day” doesn’t even try for one. It assumes, rightly I fear, that attention-deficit stylistics are a perfect fit for attention-deprived audiences. I’m tempted to say this represents the triumph of the video-game aesthetic, except most video games have better narratives than “Knight and Day.”

The people who made “Knight and Day” may think they’re giving audiences what they want but what they’re really saying is: This is what audiences deserve. Grade: C (Rated PG-13 for sequences of action violence throughout, and brief strong language.)

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