Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz join forces for a new spy movie - but is it a breezy caper or disaster movie?

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz‘s breezy spy caper Knight and Day has come in for such a public trashing recently that you’d think it was a disaster on a par with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill rather than an escapist summer movie.

Admittedly, TC is now almost as toxic a brand as BP since his sofa-jumping exploits, but his latest screen effort really doesn’t deserve the mauling it’s received.

Let’s face it, Knight and Day is a lightweight action romp not a man-made disaster. (And I’m not just saying this because Tom is a friend.)

The stars, naturally, have tried their darnedest to counter all the bad press. Where BP tried static kill, Cruise and Diaz got chummy with Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear.

Things really were that desperate.

Knight and Day - Cameron Diaz & Tom Cruise star in the action comedy thriller

In the States, the pair’s charm offensive didn’t save the day. Despite a huge marketing push, Knight and Day only took third place at the box office on its first weekend (behind Toy Story 3 and the Adam Sandler comedy Grown Ups), making this Cruise’s most poorly attended opening since Far and Away in 1992.

In the UK, Knight and Day’s opening weekend take of $2.4million places it second behind the all-conquering Toy Story 3.

Why so lacklustre?

It could be that today’s multiplex audiences just find Cruise too creepy after his Oprah meltdown to cut it as a blockbuster hero any more. Yet the fact that there’s undeniably something a bit manic these days about his mega-kilowatt smile actually suits his spy character in Knight and Day.

Cruise’s super secret agent, Roy Miller, has gone rogue according to his erstwhile FBI handlers, so when he kidnaps Diaz’s ditsy heroine – for her own protection, he insists – neither you nor she can be entirely sure he’s to be trusted.

Then there’s his practice of repeatedly drugging Diaz’s June into unconsciousness so that he can take her out of harm’s way. How creepy is that? That he does it again and again is one of Knight and Day’s running gags and also a way for the filmmakers to tip us off, as the story moves from one exotic location to the next, that they’re fully aware of the absurdity of the film’s globe-trotting plot.

Knight and Day - Tom Cruise & Cameron Diaz try to stay ahead of their enemies - and a horde of stampeding bulls - in the action comedy thriller

All the dashing around and derring-do is somehow connected to a top-secret super-battery that everyone wants and Miller has  – a device that perfectly fits Hitchcock’s famous notion of a ‘MacGuffin’, the contrivance that sets the story in motion.

Of course, Knight and Day director James Mangold isn’t in the same league as Hitchcock and his film can’t hold a candle to The 39 Steps or North by Northwest, but as freewheeling spy thrillers go Knight and Day is great fun.

True, the action sequences go on too long and the reliance on CGI is often blatant, but Cruise’s irrepressible zest and Diaz’s ditsy charm pull the film through the rough patches.

Cruise sends up his action-hero persona with panache, tongue in cheek but never going so far that he ends up winking at the audience. It’s a good move for him. There was always something humourless about his cocky swagger when he was at his movie star peak. Now, as his gloriously foul-mouthed movie mogul Leo Grossman proved in Tropic Thunder and the MTV Awards, it’s clear that he knows how to have fun with his image.

If the world wants to treat him as a joke, then Cruise is in on it too.

On general release from 6th August.