Have you ever found yourself wondering: “Where the hell is Tom Cruise?”

Knight and Day

At Quality 16 and Rave
20th Century Fox

Many simply don’t care. Yet, for those who treasure Cruise’s classic screen presence, it has become quite an appropriate question these days. After all, the megastar is a supporting joke as of late, in movies like 2007’s “Tropic Thunder,” where he was covered in makeup as a hairy, potty-mouthed studio exec. Unforgettable indeed, but not exactly Maverick or Ethan Hunt.

Cruise has had a tough time climbing back to stardom on his own merits – the boyish charm, the bursting physical intensity, the classic grin – and has seen his shtick derided as an annoying gimmick. Like any good action hero, though, he won’t quit ’til he’s goddamn good and ready.

“Knight and Day” is in some ways a return to form for Cruise. In his first action role in four years, he once again finds the opportunity to jump on rooftops, kill people in trains and run fast as hell, as he’s done time and again for installments of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise. Additionally – and not insignificantly – for the first time since 2004’s “Collateral,” it doesn’t seem to matter so much that it’s Cruise in the driver’s seat. The film shows that his ability to inhabit a separate character, while scarce of late, is still somewhat intact.

That said, “Knight & Day,” while somewhat formulaic, would be easy to forget with a different lead actor. Cruise naturally performs his duty as a classic action lead better than almost any other contemporary action star, with equal parts brawn and brains.

The rest of the cast drops in for fairly standard performances, including leading lady Cameron Diaz and supporting faces Peter Sarsgaard (“Jarhead”) and Paul Dano (“There Will Be Blood”). As a relatively talented cast, though, the actors’ “standard” performances are high quality in the realm of Hollywood’s summer output.

The film follows June Havens (Diaz) and secret agent Roy Miller (Cruise), who meet coincidentally in the airport. The two are then bound together, as Roy’s identity becomes more clear over the course of one disastrous plane ride. As she travels with Roy and becomes taken by his charisma, June finds herself involved in an international chase to protect a perpetual energy battery, which has the CIA and a Spanish arms dealer in pursuit. Like a colorful and silly version of “The Bourne Identity,” the film isn’t that original or insightful, but is actually a refreshing summer adventure.

Director James Mangold, having proved himself critically in the dramatic realm with “3:10 to Yuma” and “Walk the Line,” keeps the film on track and the actors focused on the story at hand. Given the track record of some recent summer blockbusters, that’s actually saying something.

The script is inconsistent but provides some genuinely laugh-out-loud funny moments throughout its length. The action is fleshed-out and pervasive, but due to the film’s globe-hopping trip through various continents, it never quite gets stale.

The inevitable romantic sub-plot between Roy and June is just that – inevitable – and inspires wonder as to why it isn’t handled better. Romantic scenes are shrunk into sub-scenes and placed in the middle of action sequences, leaving the relationship arc to suffer miserably. The script cuts out the development, making a romance seem precipitous and incomplete.

However, the romance is salvaged, even if only slightly, by the chemistry between the leads. Cruise and Diaz combine brunette and blonde in classically pleasing fashion, and prettily light up the screen like they’re paid to do.

All in all, “Knight and Day” is a pleasant time. And in the grand scheme of blockbusterdom, it confirms the fact that Cruise is still a charming screen presence and a hardworking action performer. With a good effort from him and everyone else involved, “Knight and Day” comes out as one of the better options of the summer.

You can decide for yourself how much that actually means, though.

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