NEW YORK – What do you get when you team the world's most bankable star with the most commercially successful director on the planet?
A movie that takes chances, from two men with nothing to lose.
Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg agree that Minority Report, out June 21, is darker and more thought-provoking than the FX-laden summer actioner you'd expect from such a made-in-blockbuster-heaven pairing.
"I think we both saw Minority Report as a grand experiment," Spielberg tells The Post.
"We sort of walked the edge of that experiment, tried different things and messed with the formula a little bit.
"[Tom's] a guy who, I guess, feels like he has nothing to lose. I feel like I have nothing to lose. We've both achieved so much in our lives and we're so happy about what we've done . . . so it's fun to experiment."
Based on a short story by sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick, whose stories also inspired Total Recall and Blade Runner, Minority Report is set 50 years in the future: Washington police have formed a Pre-Crime unit that uses psychic technology to convict murderers before they commit their crimes.
The $100 million sci-fi thriller is sprinkled with Spielberg's trademark special effects, like retina-scanning robotic spiders, and the cool action sequences Cruise is great at, including a jet-pack chase and a scene where he leaps precariously from vehicle to vehicle along a vertical highway.
But it also raises existential questions about ethics, morality, crime and punishment.
There's little of the sentimentality we've come to expect from the man who brought us E.T. in this dark, occasionally violent, vision of a Big Brother future in which individual privacy is non-existent.
And Cruise, as a bereaved father running from the outcome of a crime he has yet to commit, has traded in his famous, megawatt smile for a permanently angst-ridden expression and occasional tear.
Basically, this futuristic noir tale is something of a gamble for two Hollywood heavyweights with less-than-stellar successes in their immediate pasts.
Spielberg, whose movies have grossed a whopping total of $2.8 billion domestically, dropped the ball with last year's A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
And audiences gave Cruise, whose movies have raked in a total of $2 billion, a lukewarm reception for Vanilla Sky, which he admits was "a challenging picture."
Despite that, neither one wanted to make a picture that Spielberg describes as "just a big, Tom Cruise, Minority Impossible ride."
"I had a chance after A.I. to homogenize Minority Report and just make it a popcorn summer thriller," Spielberg says.
"I could have done seven more cliffhangers and thrown out the subplot and not complicated the mystery.
"But I wanted to tell a story that made it worth my time, that challenged me."
Cruise, whose sleazy Magnolia role showed he's unafraid of making eclectic choices, is in a good position to gamble.
"Any time you go out, it's a risk," he said. "You have to say, 'I want to do it and they're trusting me.' Fortunately, I haven't lost a studio money, ever."
Spielberg, who virtually invented the "event movie" with Jaws in 1975, is confident Minority Report will find an audience amid the summer's web-slinging wonders and attacking clones.
"If you want to be disturbed by it, it will disturb you," he says.
"If you want to just go for the ride, you can have it."
Spielberg and Cruise have been trying to sync schedules and work together since David Geffen introduced them on the set of Risky Business 20 years ago.
The closest they came was the 1988 film Rain Man, which Spielberg had to ditch because of a commitment to film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Then work on Minority Report was postponed for two years after Stanley Kubrick died, and Spielberg took over A.I.
When the two perfectionist power players finally started filming together in March 2001, the set was surprisingly free of friction.
"There's no rivalry or power conversation when you're working with an actor," Spielberg says.
"Everything that Tom is to all of us and to me, too, evaporates the second you get down to work."
The feeling was mutual.
"Steven's not pretentious in any way," Cruise says.
"He's not sitting there going, 'Oh, I'm Steven Spielberg.' I think he's very much the opposite.
"I like that — he's focusing on his story. He's someone who's very relaxed and very easy."