Blackouts are a crucial element of Knight and Day, explaining how much of the hoo-hah continues to happen. Photogenic heroes on the lam get into a jam, someone gets drugged or bonked on the head, the screen goes fuzzy and the camera blinks from the point of view of someone slowly regaining consciousness.
Voila! When the lens finally opens wide and clear, the heroes are safely somewhere else, on the other side of the world. How they defied death isn't important or even explained much after the first blackout. What matters is that they're ready to progress to the next level of director James Mangold's frantic, flesh-and-blood video game.
Knight and Day never makes sense from the opening credits. Heck, the title is only half-explained, and not as cleverly as the pun deserves. It's a movie that never gestated beyond the pitch: glamorous stars in exotic locales, shooting and driving their way to safety through a gantlet of bad guys chasing a MacGuffin. Standard stuff, unless the stars are super glamorous.
Mangold got that part right. Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are as perfect for action movie window dressing as they come. Those dimples, grins and sparkling eyes will distract anyone seeking logic. Just keep them alive for two hours and the rest will take care of itself.
Yet halfway through Knight and Day, that plan betrays Mangold's overestimation of it. Cruise and Diaz can't carry this much bull on their shoulders. I'll bet Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn couldn't, either.
Knight and Day puzzles from the outset, with perky June Havens (Diaz) repeatedly bumping into charming Roy Miller (Cruise) in an airport. He has something in mind besides flirting. Roy is a secret agent protecting the Zephyr, a perpetual energy source the size of a AA battery, and its nerdy inventor (Paul Dano). June is Roy's "mule" for starters, then his partner on the run from other agents calling him a traitor.
Casting Cruise as Roy — and Peter Sarsgaard as his cobra-eyed partner — eliminates the question of whether Roy is going rogue or being framed. Mangold quickly shifts into a sleight-of-hand pattern: dish a little exposition, and before anyone can say "huh?" launch a gunfight somewhere exciting. Lather, reload, repeat.
When the double agent angle goes stale, toss in an equally dangerous foreign cartel that also wants the Zephyr. The chase is the thing, led by two attractively scared rabbits just a blackout away from safety.
There are no complaints about Mangold's energetic action sequences, although after the first shootout aboard an airplane that subsequently crashes in a cornfield the bar is raised almost too high. And each brawl, bombing and vehicular chase has personality thanks to Cruise's flippant heroism and Diaz's muscle memory from Charlie's Angels. But they're a cute couple trapped in a loudly mediocre movie. They could use a blackout.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.