by Brett Parker
Knight and Day is an uninvolving, laughless trudge through what should have been a firecracker fusion between action and romantic comedy. Through Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, we are given two accomplished movie stars certainly capable of the tasks at hand, yet seem hopelessly lost and uninspired. Here is a film based around sensational action scenes, spy games, and a delicious romantic courtship, and the filmmakers don't have the slightest clue how to make us care about anything in the foreground.
The film opens with a beautiful woman named June (Diaz) yanking her heavy luggage through an airport. She is trying to catch a flight to her younger sister's wedding when she runs into Roy Miller (Tom Cruise), another traveler apparently heading for the same flight. June takes an instant attraction to Roy, for he appears to be handsome, smooth, well-groomed...and a cold-blooded killer! Every passenger on their flight, including the pilots, try one-by-one to kill Roy, yet he dispatches each one with an assassin's efficiency and even finds time to land the plane safely!
Roy explains to June that he is a secret agent who has gone rogue in order to protect a young science whiz named Simon (Paul Dano) who has concocted what could be the most important invention of the 21st Century. Roy claims his government colleagues tried to steal the invention and threaten Simon's life, so he hid him and the invention in a safe place and has gone on the run. Reasonably spooked by all this, June tries to avoid Roy and go about being a bride's maid to her sister. However, a fellow agent of Roy's named Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard) shows up to inform June that Roy is in fact the bad guy and is out to steal the invention for himself. No matter what June believes, Roy eventually sweeps her up in an adventure filled with car crashes, gun fights, and motorcycle chases that spans all the way from Austria to Spain.
Knight and Day wants both to be a high-octane action ride and a fetching romance yet it comes up considerably short on both accounts. The action scenes here come equipped with all the tricked-out CGI effects and slam-bang moments you could expect, but after a while it all feels very redundant and unimaginative. It's been said that this film is meant to parody Cruise's Mission: Impossible stints, yet those films had an absurdest need to push the envelope towards action we'd rarely seen before. Perhaps if the film was more playful about over-the-top chaos, there would be more fun to relish. Say what you will about The A-Team's quick-cutting implausibilities, but at least that film had a cheerful need to mix things up in a insanely grand way.
Having Cruise and Diaz play off each other with smoldering and humorous romantic tension could provide a well of cinematic inspiration. However, the script doesn't provide them with any significant dialogue or touching moments. The script wants to unearth big laughs and deep yearning within their characters, but there are zero laughs to be held or any real romantic moments to hook us. Diaz looks beautiful as always and has a natural girl-next-door-quality perfectly suited to being a romantic lead, but her character is never fleshed out as more than a shrieking girly-girl. If she was given more pluck and intelligence, we could've had a strong feminine figure to care about. Cruise could play a character like this in his sleep (it's pretty remarkable that he could play a depth-defying super-agent in his sleep at this point in his career) and he does, in fact, appear disappointingly subdued. Perhaps the joke is that Roy has been at this gig for so long that he's grown casual about it, but we feel it's Cruise whose being too casual about the apparent humor of the situation. Even with a straight face, his performance lacks the deep yearning and intensity of his more memorable roles.
Director James Mangold (Identity, Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) is a director known for tackling mythic situations with a great patience in pacing, almost too patient. I wouldn't exactly call his style low energy, but there's a faint subtlety to his work that can be a tad unnerving at times. He has a tendency to slow things down just when you wish the energy would get cranked up. Perhaps he was the wrong director to tackle this material, for he keeps things way too formal and straight. This movie demands frantic energy, whiz-bang pacing, and cockeyed hilarity, three things that have never been his strong suit. I'm thinking a director like J.J. Abrams (Cruise's Mission: Impossible 3 cohort) could've pulled it off, for he can deliver a warp-speed thrill ride without sacrificing an ounce of humor or heart.
The original and obvious model for Knight and Day has to be Charade, the 1960s Stanley Donen caper that found Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn conducting a compelling courtship amidst a shadowy thriller plot. The earlier film was essentially a romantic comedy that was occasionally interrupted by the thriller genre. The film made the wise decision of putting the Grant-Hepburn romance in the forefront and letting the dangerous aspects of the plot take care of itself. If Knight and Day had put more thought into its romantic aspects instead of it's well-calculated spy plot, it probably could've been more heartfelt and involving. Charade was also brilliant in the sly way it spoofed Grant's star image as well as the Hollywood thrillers he made over the years. It's such a shame that Cruise is afraid to let such vulnerabilities show on the big screen. He seems persistent in upholding his youthful, golden boy image just when he should be mischievously dissecting it. He should take a cue from Paul Newman, who showed us that revealing the cracks in your aging could provide a prosperous path to richer roles. Didn't Cruise learn from Tropic Thunder that poking fun at himself is a great way to go?
A movie like Knight and Day is usually a harvest for big-time Hollywood thrills, naughty sexual tension, and brutal genre self-reflection, yet this time everything comes up surprisingly bland. It's plays things to straight-laced and by-the-numbers when the subtext could've been endlessly fascinating. I admire it's old school yearnings for Hollywood charms and movie star wattage, but Cinema has grown too sophisticated to take such things at such a shallow face value anymore.