Tom Cruise doesn’t mean us harm. He just wants to be a movie star. Unlike Brad, or George, Tom doesn’t mind living on another planet. He’s comfortable being seen as some kind of ambition-fuelled android who exists to sign autographs. In the 80s, before the internet and 24-hour news, stars were more like spokespersons. Tom was good at this. He could get out there – glad-hand it with the best of them – and sell the movie. No-one asked Tom Cruise about Tom Cruise. In his new movie, Knight and Day, you can see Tom trying to give account of himself the best way he knows how (after the Oprah debacle): by starring. He shouldn’t have to exist outside movies.
Knight and Day is a break-neck apology for Tom Cruise’s couch-jumping antics. He plays a secret agent whose days of lies, jet-setting, and paranoia have finally gotten to him. Hanging around an airport terminal one day, he bumps into his saviour. She is thirty-something and unmarried (a lot like the real Cameron Diaz), and, after Tom guns down everyone aboard their flight, she forgives him for being homicidally pro-active. Tom, for his part, sees that Cameron is someone he can talk to. So he drugs her, takes her to his private island, dresses her in clothes he’s picked out, and tells her not to talk to anyone about him. He’s done this kind of thing before, many times, you suspect. Cameron Diaz remains, nervously, obliging.
Tom Cruise doesn’t have to be human in this role. He’s more like a poster of a spy than the real thing. Even James Bond would seem gritty and realistic in contrast to Knight and Day. But that’s exactly why Tom seems to enjoy himself. He’s playing along with the nutcase-persona he’s been tagged with, and the freedom to it permits – to act like a gym-toned psychotic – is exhilarating. When he shoots a friend of Cameron’s through the shoulder, cleanly, without damaging any vital organs, he looks as proud as a man who’s just become a dad for the first time. It’s as though he were saying: “Yes! You just got shot by Tom Cruise!” As though all his assertiveness, his can-do spirit, was manifest in that gunshot wound.
The movie isn’t exactly romantic. It’s a bit too frantic for that. But Cameron Diaz has always been more an honorary boy than a sex goddess. She has Goldie Hawn’s appeal: a “good morning!” person. She’s Mindy to Tom’s Mork. He seems more likeable because he’s with her. Not “more normal” (that really would require acting), but more like someone you don’t have to fear. Since Cameron is a movie star too – of longstanding – you get the feeling she’s used to guys with perfect abs and zero personal skills, so Tom, in the movie, is sort of like her project: she teaches him not to over-power everyone with his awesomeness, and he, in return, sits down when he tells her he’s in love, rather than couch-surfing.
It’s a pity the script tends to throw in a new country every time there’s a scene change, because a movie about Tom and Cameron getting to know one another (without going the Phileas Fogg route) could have been interesting. Knight and Day needs to be a bit more like Midnight Run, a bit less fantastical. As it stands, it feels as if the movie was sponsored by a travel agent. Director James Mangold handles the action scenes efficiently – quick deaths, lots of running and jumping – but the blitzkrieg of set pieces flattens all the characters. Things only get faster and louder as the movie goes on, and you struggle to catch what’s said. When you do pause for thought, you realise the plot has Cameron being drugged repeatedly, only to drug Tom at the end, so he and she can live happily ever after. (Self-medicating matrimony is obviously the norm in Hollywood, but still…)
Tom Cruise isn’t professionally rehabilitated by the end, but at least you remember what it’s like to live on Planet Tom. It’s a small world, peopled by celebrities. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s weird. Money is never a problem, but a good woman is hard to find. You try to admit you’re a nut, in a way that maintains your dignity, and your box-office prowess. But it’s tough, balancing amnesia about the real world with the demands of holding down a career. For all his millions of dollars, his good-looks, and his well-ironed sexuality, a man like Tom Cruise is vulnerable when he has time off. He wants to work. Knight and Day is about a workaholic. Let’s let the man be.