Thursday, January 13, 2011

Knight and Day

Director: James Mangold
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Maggie Grace, Paul Dano, Marc Blucas, Viola Davis
Running Time: 110 min.
Rating: PG-13

★★ (out of ★★★★)

Here's something new. The next time you're making a movie and are unsure what to do next just drug one of the main characters and skip to the next scene. It's a great way of avoiding the hassle of plot exposition and even saves you the trouble of writing dialogue. Plus, it's really funny seeing that look on their face when they first realized they've been drugged and then again when they wake up and have no idea where they are. The Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz action comedy, Knight and Day uses this as an "out" a few times and it's emblematic of just how lazy and careless the filmmakers are about the story, or what there is of one. Sure it involves something about a stolen battery but it's really about producers sitting in a conference room and deciding the re-teaming of Cruise and Diaz could result in big bucks. They're thrown into a movie together because they can be and while neither should plan on winning a celebrity popularity contest any time soon, even they're biggest dissenters would agree that as actors both deserve far better. But as disappointed as I am in them for signing on to this mess, I'm maybe even more disappointed in Quentin Tarantino for naming it one of his 20 Favorite Movies of 2010. He, of all people, should know the true value of movies so bad they're good. This is just bad.

To say Knight and Day starts off promisingly is probably overstating it, but at least the first half hour isn't a total disaster. On her way to her sister's wedding in Boston, June Havens (Diaz) encounters the seemingly normal and friendly Roy Miller (Cruise) in the terminal and then on the flight. In a development that's revealed fairly when he kills everyone on board and attempts to land the plane in a cornfield, Roy is an FBI agent who may or may not have gone rogue. He's now being hunted by  Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard) another untrustworthy agent who suspects Roy has plans to sell genius creator Simon Feck's perpetual energy battery on the black market. That Simon is played kind of hilariously by Paul Dano is one of the few pure joys to come out of the film. June, now an accomplice of sorts, finds herself in a dilemma, torn between trusting a potentially dangerous man not playing with a full deck, but with whom she strangely feels secure, or the agency that could be framing him. Feeling betrayed and jilted, June drives Roy off a bridge, disfiguring his face to the point where he has to wear a scary latex mask, eventually gaining his revenge by smothering her with a pillow while listening to the Monkees. Sorry, wrong movie. What we get instead is a series of nonsensical, CGI-laden action scenes hastily strung together, attempting to hide the fact that we arrive at the conclusion of the film about an hour before the story and its characters do.

There's no doubt everyone will blame the always underrated Cruise for this debacle when he's actually the best thing in it, and the few times the movie clicks is because of his charismatic performance.  That's especially evident in the early scenes where he displays priceless comic timing in spoofing his own public persona as a man unhinged and off his rocker. This was a great idea and if the script had fully capitalized on that instead of heading down a road we've traveled a thousand times before in nearly every other action movie, this could have been interesting. Still, Cruise alternates between comedy and action with ease, faring far better than Diaz, who's really just playing another tired variation on the one-dimensional ditsy blond character we thought she ditched years ago. Despite almost being a decade younger than her co-star, she's the one who seems strangely miscast. I'm probably treading sensitive ground here due to Hollywood's well known age bias against actresses, but given where Diaz's career is currently at, this role seems off. That's actually a compliment because June is written as stupid and helpless, better suited to a younger, fresh-faced ingenue who could more believably convey the immaturity of the character as she goes through this crazy ordeal and gets taken under his wing. It's sad to state this is one of those rare cases where casting way younger would have actually worked better for the nature of the part and serviced the story. Besides, doesn't Cruise have it written into his contract by now that there be at least a twenty-five to thirty year age difference between him and his female co-stars?

There's a long stretch (or at least it feels long) late in the picture when Cruise's character disappears and Diaz has to carry much of the final act on her own, causing the already tired material to suffer even more. Just as they had great chemistry (of a very different variety) in Vanilla Sky, they do again here, only they're not given anything to work with. And just because Cruise can still play this role well doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea for him to. He's has always done his best work when harshly playing against his action hero persona (think Collateral and Magnolia) so it's disappointing to see him revert back to it with every other release because we know he's capable of much more. Or if he insists on doing that, he should exercise his considerable clout to at least make sure the material's better than this.

That I find the careers of its stars more interesting than anything in the actual film says all there is about how forgettable the whole experience was. While the two main characters aren't particularly likable and the plot is vaguely sketched, at least the tone is consistent and the action scenes are excitingly directed by James Mangold. There could have been something here, especially considering the talent involved.  How much Mangold actually thought he could extract from this script or why he took the project, aside from a hefty payday and the chance to work with two superstars, is anyone's guess. Maybe he just had to get a bad summer action movie out of his system. He's entitled. But now that he did, that means he, Cruise and Diaz can move on to something more worthwhile. And I'll just re-watch Vanilla Sky.


Fred [The Wolf] said...

I liked it more than you did, but I do see where you were coming from. It was just a generic, brainless action blockbuster - not much deeper than that. For that, I thought it mostly succeeded. But both actors have done better and probably should have been in a better film. I thought the script ruined the film myself. Great review as always.

The Film Connoisseur said...

I enjoyed some of the action sequences, but seeing these two big stars in this brainless action felt like Cruise was trying to do his own version Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Get to big stars and put them together in a big budget action flick. Somehow it didnt work that well, I think its the simplistic script. Agree with you about the drug thing, it was lazy.

I liked Cruise's character, he was the invinsible secret agent who has all the answers and evaids all the bullets. Charismatic is the right word you used to describe the character.

jeremythecritic said...

I was surprised just how much I disliked it considering I'd count myself as a fan of those two actors. But yeah the action was fine but the script sunk it. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a good comparison.

Jonathan said...

I thought it fell apart pretty quickly in the second half, but I thought it was very entertaining up until that point. Wasn't expecting much, but I thought there were a lot of genuinely funny moments, especially early on.

James Mangold is a much better director than this, but he did a very admirable job with what little he was given. I really enjoyed how the plane sequence was laid out. Not sure who was after whom; good build-up.

I actually found the drugged sequence kind of fun and original. Obviously we can't see everything that happens, so this was a fairly inspired way to get that across.

Good review. Love the site.