'Knight and Day' is an audience-pleaser

Tom Cruise is, indisputably, a top-tier movie star and has been since he slid across the hardwood floor of his parents' two-story colonial wearing white briefs, playing air guitar, in the memorable and breakthrough film, "Risky Business."

He lives a life that can only be imagined, one that has generated a cottage industry of fans, paparazzi and tabloid media, all desperate for information about him, professionally and most certainly personally.

Cruise has always been intelligent about his career and discrete about his personal life, that is until his ill-fated interview with Oprah Winfrey. Filled with raw, adolescent emotion, in the throes of a new romance with Katie Holmes, a Hollywood ingénue with a short resume, Tom approached Oprah's faux living room ready to levitate. He was, not to get too SoCal about it, "stoked." So much so that Oprah barely had time enough to ask him even a preliminary question when Tom, in a moment of startling and unexpected exuberance, in front of the studio audience and millions of viewers, "jumped the couch." It was a move that would have made any gymnast proud. As quickly as one can say Internet, "jumping the couch" dropped into the daily lexicon of common language, linked forever to that one moment when Cruise took flight and got all jiggy with it.

This is all to say that Cruise has spent the ensuing post-couch years trying to dispel that YouTube, viral video moment — compounded before and after by endless displays of PDA — hoping folks would refocus on his career as an actor of seriousness and heft. The film "Valkyrie," however, didn't help. Somehow, Cruise in Nazi costume-cum-eye-patch and Sieg Heil, knee-high, heel-clicking leather boots with jodhpurs required more suspension of disbelief than most audiences were capable of. The suspicion began to take hold that Cruise was content to do Cruise, no matter the role.

Which brings us to Cruise's recent romantic comedy, "Knight and Day," wherein he portrays a rogue government agent, Roy Miller, in concert with Cameron Diaz as June Havens, an unsuspecting, hapless traveler on her way from Wichita, Kan., to Boston. Strangely, interestingly, she's carrying a suitcase filled with retro parts for a muscle car restoration. Accidentally, she bumps into Roy in the Wichita airport, or so she assumes. And suddenly she finds herself ensnared in some serious jeopardy. Bad people are trying to kill Roy. Even good people are trying to kill Roy. And June is trying to keep her head down, when she's not rendered unconscious, a recurring event that's actually charming.

So, is the film good entertainment? Surprisingly, it is. What could have been a cynical attempt to package two attractive movie stars in a silly nonstarter is an enjoyable, breezy, sincere film.

And, as a bonus, it has a wonderful MacGuffin.

A MacGuffin is an object (papers, brief case, necklace) that soon catches the audience's attention and helps drive the plot while recurring throughout the movie. In the "Maltese Falcon" it was, well, the Maltese Falcon. "In Knight and Day" it's the Zephyr, a self-charging battery that provides an endless source of energy. The good guys and the bad guys are not only after the MacGuffin, but the scientist who invented it, one Simon Fleck, played geekily to the max by Paul Dano, who himself comes close to becoming a MacGuffin.

And so the romantic thriller unfolds with Roy and June slipping into and out of improbable but nicely executed scrapes, pumping up the volume and the bullets and generally having a good time. As does the audience.

Jonah Hex

Susan Sontag, novelist and social critic, wrote that tragedy is an experience of hyperinvolvement and comedy is an experience of detachment. She went on to comment that camp in film or art or design is good because it's awful. "(Camp) is the farthest extension in sensibility of the metaphor of life as theater," Sontag suggested.

Camp is also kitsch, meaning it revels in exaggeration and garishness. The recently released "Jonah Hex" is one or the other, take your choice. How can it not be?

First clue: it's an adaptation of a DC Comics book from the early '70s in which Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) strides across ravaged Tennessee like a wrathful exclamation mark, his face horribly branded and disfigured, still dressed in a seedy Confederate uniform, though the war between the states has ended, the South defeated, 11 years earlier. When he speaks he slurs. When he drinks, a stream of liquid escapes through a hole in his cheek. He does have a great horse, a great dog and there's Lilah (Megan Fox), an unreconstructed hooker — heaving bosom, an hourglass figure, a sultry look that beckons, a way with knives and guns — who cares about him. Lilah is in touch with Jonah's inner goodness (it's tempting to say child), no matter how well disguised.

Clue two: Evil is afoot in the land, namely a Confederate renegade, a beyond-therapy or psychotropics-psychopath, one Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) who has managed to secure a serious weapon of mass destruction. He plans on delivering the exploding ordinance to the nation's capital during the centennial July 4th celebration as President Ulysses Grant (Aidan Quinn) gives his speech to the nation. Trunbull's twisted, delusional wish is to see the South rise again. Jonah's mission is to derail Turnbull. Of course, there will be gunplay of the Colt .44 variety (well, there is a large hatchet that Hex favors, likely because silencers hadn't been invented).

Clue three: The film is only 83 minutes long. Everyone is in a hurry, so there isn't much time for serious discussion about anything. Think spaghetti western. Hex does find time to talk to the dead, but don't let that small fact detract from a movie that is pretty good because it is so bad. Truth is, if Jonah were not so badly maimed, he'd likely break into a wide grin just because the situations, often downright outlandish, call for it. But of course he can't. He's got a hole in his cheek.

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