Knight and Day

Knight and Day

I can’t believe Tom Cruise movies have gotten old-fashioned.  That’s not right.  What I should say is:  I can’t believe movie stars have gotten old-fashioned.  But they have, and the proof is in Knight and Day‘s pudding — it’s a last gasp of old-fashioned movie star filmmaking that feels as quaint as it sounds.

Super agent Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) has a problem.  He needs to sneak something out of Wichita, and the less his mule knows, the better.  Unfortunately, that leaves him with a bigger problem, because Roy is a pretty good guy, and when the perfect mule turns up in the shape of June Havens (Cameron Diaz), he can’t help but make sure she gets home to her sister’s wedding on time and that the bad guys don’t kill her for unknowingly helping him.

This is the kind of thing that was big 20 years ago but has been going out of fashion for a while, and there’s a whiff of desperation about the whole thing.  And not the desperation of a couple on the lam, either. It’s unfortunate, because it’s not a bad movie.  It’s not exactly a good movie, either, but it’s got its moments.  Knight and Day is a film about charisma and on-screen chemistry, but unfortunately, not much else.

June is very much your everywoman (assuming your everywoman looks like Cameron Diaz): a hard-working, blue collar girl who doesn’t want much out of life but to live it.  It’s a world that gets turned upside down when the airplane in which she’s riding with charming Roy suddenly fills itself with dead people and crash-lands in a Kansas corn field in one of the film’s few uninterrupted action sequences.

It’s trying to be very over-the-top in its sentiments, with ridiculous, contrived dangers and escapes as only Hollywood can do them, but from such a narrow point of view that it’s hard to get close to the danger.  The idea is to tell the story as much as possible from June’s point of view of these dangers — which is to say, frantic and crazed and never entirely certain what to make of what is going on.

That’s interesting idea of a way to make an action movie, but director James Mangold (Walk the Line) can’t quite work his way out of the straitjacket he’s put himself in.

After waking up back home in Boston, hoping the entire incident on the plane was a dream, June soon finds herself running for her life from the FBI in a rollicking car chase told mostly from her point of view so we can only tangentially see the other cars exploding and flipping around her while she tries to have a conversation with Roy, who seems to be super-glued to the hood of her car.

It’s actually pretty well-done, but it becomes readily apparent several action scenes in that this is the way he plans to shoot the entire film, and it quickly moves from being interesting to being a liability.  A big summer action movie is ultimately about letting your audience share in the visceral nature of the over-the-top situations you’ve created; separating and keeping the audience apart from that is ultimately a case of shooting yourself in the foot.

Because it’s an “action movie” that’s not about being an action movie.  It’s about seeing its two stars spar and flirt on screen, and it does its best to move the action out of the way so that they can get back to it.

Usually I’m all for ditching pointless action in exchange for character development, but ditching it for flirting isn’t doing anyone any favors.  The leads are very charming, there’s no denying it, but they’re covering up their own film instead of enhancing it.

Knight and Day is like the last gasp of a beached whale.  Not because of the quality of the movie itself, but just the kind of film it is.  The ante for what can and will be put on screen has been raised and raised, and a movie star-driven film just can’t compete with that any more.  If done well, you can get a good balance between the two, like Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow or Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man, where each half enhances the other.

Knight and Day wants to do that but isn’t up to it.  Instead, its movie stars keep getting in the way of their own film, each tripping over the other.  Instead of watching it, you’re better off putting Knight and Day in a time capsule and singing some Don Maclean, ’cause this is the day the movie star died.

Tom Cruise as Roy Miller; Cameron Diaz as June Havens; Peter Sarsgaard as Fitzgerald; Jordi Mollà as Antonio; Viola Davis as Director George; Paul Dano as Simon Feck; Falk Hentschel as Bernhard; Marc Blucas as Rodney; Lennie Loftin as Braces; Maggie Grace as April Havens; Dale Dye as Frank Jenkins; Celia Weston as Molly.

[Knight and Day opens on Wednesday, June 23.]
(Regency Enterprises -- http://www.newregency.com/; 20th Century Fox -- http://www.foxmovies.com/; Knight and Day -- http://www.knightanddaymovie.com/)
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Review by . Review posted Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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