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Knight and Day

Do you ever have one of those days? You know the ones – where all you want to do is take a nice, quiet flight home to be in your sister’s wedding, maybe flirt with the hot guy you bumped into at the airport, and the next thing you know, the hot guy has murdered everyone on the plane (including the captain), you’re forced to crash land in a cornfield and then be whisked around the globe as you are pursued by various evil factions?

I hate when that happens!

In “Knight and Day,” the new film from Director James Mangold (“Walk the Line” and “3:10 to Yuma”), Cameron Diaz plays June Havens, the lucky woman who stumbles into an international conspiracy when she encounters super-secret agent Roy Miller (Tom Cruise). It seems he’s been wrongfully accused of stealing an “invention that will change the world” and, in an effort to clear his name, he’s been forced to go on the lam and bring the real bad guys (led by the inexplicably Southern-accented Peter Sarsgaard) to justice. If they just so happen to fall in love along the way, well, that’s just a bonus.

In a story that takes us from Wichita, Kansas to the South Pacific, Austria and Spain, it’s obvious that Mangold and first-time screenwriter Patrick O’Neill are aiming to re-create a bit of the old Hitchcock magic of films like “North by Northwest” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” In those films, the plot becomes secondary to the sparks flying between the leads as they navigate their way through romantic locations and preposterous situations.

Sadly, Cruise and Diaz are no Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. Though Diaz is certainly appealing as a character that could only be in a movie (she restores old cars and brings parts with her on the plane, despite the fact that her hands have probably never touched an oil pan), the script doesn’t have enough zing to make her more than a cog in a machine.

Tom Cruise always does his best work when he plays characters that don’t require a display of real emotion, and this role plays to that strength. Unfortunately, he attacks the love scenes as if they were a shootout, which doesn’t generate much in the way of romantic fireworks.

The rest of the cast is stellar, including Viola Davis as a CIA Chief, Marc Blucas as a firefighter smitten with June, and Paul Dano as a genius scientist. They don’t have many scenes, but they make the most of them.

Ultimately, “Knight and Day” doesn’t add up to much. There are some effective action sequences, the film moves at a good clip and it features a fun tango-like score by John Powell that sets the right mood. Mangold is a solid director, and he brings a light touch to the material, despite the ordinariness of the script.

He only falters towards the end, when the chase sequences begin to look like heavily CGI-ed goop.

Mangold certainly wants this to be his Hitchcock homage. In fact, there are several nods to “North by Northwest” throughout “Knight and Day” – including the completely confusing title. Just as folks have pondered what exactly Hitchcock’s title refers to, so will people be left scratching their heads wondering why exactly “Knight and Day” is called “Knight and Day.” Sure, there’s a Knight in there, but what does “Day” refer to?

If you figure it out, let me know.

KNIGHT AND DAY – Dir: James Mangold; Scr: Patrick O’Neill; Stars: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Paul Dano. Rated PG-13.