Long of leg, yellow of hair, big of eye, Diaz is the right heroine for a flick that’s as exaggerated as she is. And Cruise is a risky gamble who pays big dividends. As a secret agent on the lam, he’s everything the Cruise brand used to mean. His Teflon cool and calculating charm are amped up for comic effect. Clinging to a speeding car or sweet-talking Diaz’s ex-boyfriend (Marc Blucas) after he shoots him in the leg, he’s Cruise cranked up to 13—a whole lotta smooth and a jolt of crazy. When he collides (literally) with Diaz in the security line, he swoops her into his orbit like an electron.
The bad guys, who sure seem like the sane guys, have unlimited power to chase him down and reclaim an über battery designed by autistic genius Paul Dano. In the film’s nifty opening brawl, we’re wondering which passenger on their nearly flight is the mole. Turns out it’s all of them—even the stewardess—a fitting choice for a film with a hunger for more, more, more. Director James Mangold piles it on: an ’80s flick body count, a bull stampede and enough crushed cars to feed Truckasaurus Rex. And Cruise, backlit by explosions, is the constant in the madness. He’s sunny as an egg, an action star who doesn’t glower—what a relief!
A running gag in Patrick O’Neill’s screenplay has Cruise regularly roofie Diaz when things get hairy. Through her eyes, we fade in and out as we catch glimpses of their comic book escapes. One moment, he boasts, “I got this!” while chained up by his feet. Cut to Cruise and a still-unconscious Diaz parachuting from a crashing helicopter. It’s a cartoon convenience a low-budget film should steal to skimp on special effects. But as this blockbuster flaunts its cash like a sheik, Mangold is just advertising that he can give us more movie than we can handle.
The romance between Cruise and Diaz doesn’t soar, but it’s sensical. Along with it comes the theme of identity—if Cruise’s agent has sacrificed his life to the government’s cause, there truly is no him. Can a cipher be loved? It’s the question of Cruise’s career. Since 19, he’s lived his life in front of cameras. He gives every role his all, but selects roles that let him hold himself at a distance. His persona merged with his person. And the two are inextricable. Cruise has been calculating his comeback and he’s chosen wisely. This popcorn pleasure reminds us that after years of gloom and doom and daddy issues, we need a leading man with conceit and charm, someone who can throw a serious punch without taking himself too seriously. Cruise has returned and I’m rolling out the welcome mat.