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Cinema Signal: For romantic comedy and action fans this takeoff with Cruise and Diaz is filled with jetfuel.

"Collateral"
with Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx
(Discounted 2-disk DVD from Amazon)
. "Knight and Day"

Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne series of exciting action thrillers, turned into films with Matt Damon in the starring role, begins with the title character washing up on a beach suffering from amnesia and finding himself a target of his own agency, the FBI, whose director considers him a rogue agent. Now, take the broad outlines of that concept into the framework of a romantic comedy with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, sprinkle in the fairy dust of action fantasy at its best, and you have what turns out to be proof that the genre isn't confined to sappy romantics. It give me joy to say that this is fun stuff for a wide range of willing adults.

When sweet (and beautiful) June Havens (Diaz), a rare-car mechanic, hauls her heavy luggage (weighted down with two rare car exhausts) through the airline terminal, and crashes into super handsome Roy Miller who immediately scrambles to gather up her belongings from the waxed floor of the terminal, you'd think the seemingly inadvertent collison was an attempt at a cute meet.

When, after apparently going their separate ways, it happens again, you'd think that he's a bachelor with a very limited approach to meeting women, a super-klutze, or that the odds of such a thing happening twice innocently just took a holiday. In any case, these two are getting to know each other--at least by sudden contact.

Which makes it both weird and comfortable when they find themselves aboard the same plane with only a small scattering of other passengers when the cute meet finally turns into getting-to-know-you talk and Miller's exploits as a secret agent is revealed (to us; not to her, yet) by his acumen in taking down all the armed goons on the flight--including the pilots. Talk about unfriendly skies!

From there on, Miller takes it upon himself to protect the girl from the harm that's going to befall her for nothing more than showing the first signs of interest in him. He knows who's now after them. She's a lamb in a slaughter house. He's a master of his craft. She's now a girl in trouble trying to get to her sister's wedding.

In between bullets and extraordinary mayhem from a variety of enemies including his own agency that considers him rogue (the Bourne connection), Miller seems to have no problem with keeping June on her schedule. He is, after all, beholden to her, even if she's unaware of it. But we learn the true nature of his interest in her when the agency plays the security tapes at the terminal and studies those impactful meetings that began the episode. Of course, how the relationship started isn't how it's going to end--if everyone's ability to dodge an assortment of lethal projectiles holds out.

As a spoof or a rip-off of Ludlum's Bourne character, the agency's betrayal of its most highly trained asset is the background for action that's non-stop with the number of assailants steadily rising and the bodies piling up. The stakes are elevated when it becomes clear that there's a revolutionary new object incorporating a technological breakthrough that everyone's after.

But the stakes are also growing between the two fugitives at the center of the journey. The emotional line that the hardnose, gymnastic agent is crossing with the lady he mobilized as an unwitting accomplice now is his greatest ally. Part of what makes this superior as a romance is in the tantalizing withholding of operational necessity turning into a matter of the heartstrings. The course of this transformation is expressed in two mileposts: her hatred of Miller killing people trying to kill them, to her breathless admiration of his skill in doing it.

Cruise and Diaz are silver screen dynamite from start to finish, giving lessons to all who come to this kind of material in how it's done. In Diaz' case, especially, it's a graduation from the ranks of inane prior tries at it in her recent past ("What Happens in Vegas"). Cruise, a natural athlete, uses his physical skills to great advantage (in all meanings of the term) and turns in his best showing since "Collateral."

But, of course, you don't pull something like this off in a vacuum. You've got to have the material to lend your talents and good looks to and, in this part of the venture, director James Mangold and screenwriter Patrick O'Neill supply an evening's worth of adventure, eye candy and a steady dose of humor--propulsive escape fare for romantic comedy escapists.

Also shining is the rest of the cast, top to bottom. The good-bad guys at the agency, Peter Sarsgaard ("An Education") as Fitzgerald who will stop at nothing to apprehend his rogue agent and the invaluable object he holds is exemplary and Viola Davis ("State of Play") as CIA Director George, who's even better than that. The writer did a fine job of making these people more than cliches and Mangold's collaboration with cinematographer Phedon Papamichael provides framing and lighting that lends her importance and emphasizes her fine work.

Into the cliche column goes Spanish star Jordi Molla ("Che: Part Two") whose arch evil crime boss Antonio is the man unleashing heavily armed, black-clad attackers like he's got a platoon of Delta forces at his disposal. Molla's role is little more than that, though the actor is clearly capable of better. Paul Dano ("There Will Be Blood") fits into his spacy genius character Simon Feck as designed.

Kudos to all. And to those who have pointed out that Cruise's performance here shows why he fulfills the job description of Movie Star, I lend my hearty agreement. Maybe it's the action fan in me.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Opinion Section
Comments from readers:

My wife and I saw this movie last weekend and enjoyed it. What was neat is that it's actually a romance disguised as an action movie. It's the chemistry between Cruise and Diaz, and her constant faith in him, which makes it entertaining.

                                                           ~~ Mark 



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Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are
Secret Agent Roy Miller and citizen June Havens.
Targets of menace and betrayal.

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