June 27, 2010
Review - " Knight and Day " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Knight and Day
Director James Mangold
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis,
Jordi Molla, Paul Dano.
Some films promise tidy scripts, tangible suspense, and well-earned
emotional moments between properly developed characters. Other
films deliver impeccable Movie Stars executing heart-racing
motorcycle chases through international destinations like Seville,
Spain during the annual running of the bulls.
The high-octane “Knight and Day” lands in that latter category, but
harbors aspirations of being in the former class. At times, it gets there.
Other times, it doesn’t.
When it falls short, it’s usually the fault of a patched-together
screenplay. Patrick O’Neill receives script credit, though “Knight”
notoriously passed through several hands before director James
Mangold caught it in 2009 and reworked it. Again. What he ends up
with is a frivolous, fast-moving, globetrotter of a summer blockbuster
that’s more glamorous and fun than it is clever and intricate. The
sooner you accept its diminished intelligence level, the more fun you
are bound to have.
Lead actors Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz certainly seem to be
having a blast, literally and figuratively, as they plunge through
Mangold’s well-choreographed hoops. Cruise plays Roy, a lethal
agent for a covert government operation who meets innocent
bystander June (Diaz) as they’re attempting to board a Boston-bound
plane. If we are to believe Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard) — the shady
agent on Roy’s tail — this rogue operative capped 12 colleagues before stealing an extremely valuable renewable energy
source dubbed the MacGuffin … ahem, the Zephyr. Roy swears he is only trying to protect Simon (Paul Dano), the Zephyr’s
teenaged inventor. June soon realizes she won’t be leaving Roy’s sight until the case is closed.
Mangold hopes we’ll focus on the ride and for most of “Knight,” we do. Elaborate action scenes catapult our handsome
protagonists around Boston’s highways, into a train traveling through the Alps, over the rooftops of Austria, and down to
How do Roy and June manage these lengthy jaunts? Don’t ask, because no one can answer. “Knight” is stitched together in
spots, so a plane can crash in a cornfield one evening yet the surviving characters wake up in their Boston beds the next
morning. Apparently Roy also unlocked the secrets to teleportation in addition to boosting that coveted battery. No wonder
the government needs him silenced. The oil industry would be in an uproar if we no longer needed planes, trains, and
automobiles to trot the globe the way Roy and June can. When “Knight” doesn’t feel up to explaining how the action moves
from Point A to Point F, June is drugged and wakes up where the movie needs the couple to be next. It’s convenient. Too
many of those jumps (in logic), though, and you’d be wishing for a handful of those magic drugs yourself.
Mangold, however, knows when to pull back
and when to lean on his mega-wattage stars,
who beam brighter thanks to the ever-ready
batteries that have powered their careers for
years. Cruise scores his first legitimate
comedic role (outside of the Les Grossman fat
suit), and tempers Roy’s overconfidence in
hectic situations with the perfect amount of
charisma. Diaz, meanwhile, is relegated to
screaming-damsel until Mangold releases her
from that hold, and the blonde beauty’s screen
persona is allowed to fill the screen.
Tom Cruise is perfectly cast as a spy who’s
being pursued by take-no-prisoners bad guys. Cameron Diaz winds up on the same flight and becomes innocently involved
in the action without understanding what’s going on or who she’s dealing with. This leads the two on a breathless, round-the-
world scramble to elude Cruise’s would-be assassins, while Diaz is forced to decide if she’s hooked up with a good guy (as
he claims to be) or a rogue.
If there’s a crucial bit of “Knight” that continued to nag me it was that. Why did Mangold ultimately go with Diaz for the June
role? Of course, I understand the director’s desire to match Cruise’s genuine spark with an equally vibrant, A-list leading
lady, and Diaz is up to that challenge.
But considering her usually confident, headstrong persona, as well as her history as a butt-kicking Angel for the heard-but-
not-seen Charlie, I spent too much time in “Knight” just waiting for June to wake up, shake off the nerves, and start capping
bad guys. In an alternate universe exists a slightly skewed version of “Knight and Day” where Cruise must reel in, protect,
and ultimately romance someone who is funny, sunny, yet not physically capable of turning around on a speeding
motorcycle and firing off massive hand cannons. Knight and Day suffers from what I think of as the Star Wars syndrome
where 10,000 trained marksmen can't hit anything from 20 feet away while just about every shot the heroes make while
running, jumping, and speeding away on a motorcycle hits it's intended target. Regardless the movie is actually quite good. It
delivers exactly what it promises, which is more than I can say for much of Hollywood’s A-level product these days.
There are obvious echoes of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and other films of the past, but just because Patrick O’Neill’s
screenplay doesn’t have their wit or restraint doesn’t mean it isn’t lively and engaging. It’s clear from the start that there is
going to be a great deal of action and violence, including some hair-raising chase scenes, but none of it is to be taken
seriously. Director James Mangold never lingers on the result of the mayhem that surrounds Cruise wherever he goes
because that would defeat the lighthearted tone of the picture.
Knight and Day doesn’t pretend to be anything more than pure escapism. It’s slickly produced, well-paced, and takes place
in a variety of colorful settings. Most of all, it serves as a vehicle for its well-matched stars. Cruise gets to poke gentle fun of
his coolly confident Mission: Impossible
persona as a hero to whom nothing is
impossible, while Diaz displays her comedic
chops as an ordinary woman caught up in
extraordinary goings-on. These are
emblematic modern-day Movie Stars, doing
what Movie Stars do best, and they’re great
fun to watch. (This is yet another film, like
Prince of Persia - to name just one recent
example - that presents its leading actors in
almost constant ultra-closeups. Only the
most beautiful people on earth could
withstand such scrutiny.)
I thoroughly enjoyed Knight and Day and
hope it finds the wide, appreciative
audience it deserves. Teenagers may
disagree with me, but this is my idea of
perfect summer fare.