When commitment-phobic June Havens (Diaz) bumps into uber-spy Roy Miller (Cruise), it takes an on-rush of ditched planes, car chases, shoot-outs, bombing raids, train fights and general global mayhem for her to realise he may be the man of her dreams.
As balding, gut-bucketed potty-mouth Les Grossman, Tom Cruise’s feckless alter-ego in Tropic Thunder, made clear — Ethan Hunt isn’t taking himself too seriously these days. He’s all about parody, refusing straight-up spy-clobber such as Salt and The Tourist for this full-throttled caper, almost but not quite a deliberate send-up of Cruise’s IMF-persona.
Top Gun-grinning and chest-bearing, Cruise is Roy Miller, a rogue agent with the superhuman teckers to land crashing jets, hop between hurtling sedans and mow down henchmen with a supersized Uzi. Mostly while bickering with hostage-cum-love interest June (Cameron Diaz). He’s a joke, of course, but not Austin Powers (or Les Grossman) madcap. Just ten degrees off centre, and for the initial third we half suspect he’s a genuine nutball. The CIA claims he’s off the reservation, but the idea gets discarded in the ensuing blitzkrieg.
It’s breathless stuff: no chance of boredom, no space for finesse. Miller and June collide cute at an airport, next thing this charmer has “deactivated” everyone else on the Wichita-Boston red-eye and they’re crash-landing in a field. From there, we hop explosively from Boston to The Bronx, the Azores and an Alpine express to find a missing scientist, pursued by the disposable ranks of the US secret service (headed by the smarmy Peter Sarsgaard).
If Mangold had any control over his material, he might have grounded his (obvious) conflation of Hitchcockian romantic peril and hi-tech pizzazz. Hitch is the guiding light. Deliberate nods to classic chase movies like The 39 Steps and North By Northwest are scattered throughout via perilous train rides, exotic settings and devious lovers. Odd Hitchcockian notes include the couple falling asleep at the wheel of a car unknowingly loaded on a juggernaut. There’s even a MacGuffin in an everlasting battery created by Paul Dano.
But capering needs a light touch, not a heavy hand. By the second half the laughs fade and it flattens to an ’80s thriller, over-enhanced with CG auto-crunch visuals that don’t carry the heft of colliding metal.
The action is nihilistic commotion not thrill, closer to the fragging mayhem of video-games than even 007’s cruel beginnings. Sure, the film is refracted through the gleam of movie-fantasy (no mention of terrorism, no hint of conscience), but why is this Bay-like glut of clamorous motion so shorn of imagination or humour? One of 100 chase sequences interrupts a Sevillian bull-run, a thundering joke to which there is no punchline, just a load of bull.
A star-based summer flick is welcome and it’s not lacking chemistry. But Diaz, unzipping her magnificent grin, so good at offsetting her beauty with tomboyish steel, gets little reward for pluckiness. Her bullet-point backstory (an ex-boyfriend, a sister’s wedding, a gift for auto repairs) feels like echoes from forgotten drafts. She’s just a sparky personality buffeted by the airwaves of endless rewrites. At least Roy’s supposed to be a blank invention — Cruise playing Cruise, a bit woodenly.
At heart, it doesn’t know what it wants. Zucker-silly spoof on Cruise conventions? A-list driven odd-couple caper? Straight-with-plenty-of-chaser adventure-romance? If anything, it bears closer resemblance to Notting Hill, an ordinary gal hooking up with Cruise, the onscreen fantasy of him that is. A risky business at the best of times.
They make a fun duo, but none of the constituent genres work in this overbearing action-rom-com.