How far can a movie float on just charm and fluffiness? Not as far as James Mangold would like Knight and Day to go; at 110 minutes the movie bogs down towards the end, and it feels like a 90 minute version of the movie would have been perfect, nutrition-free summer entertainment. As it is, even with some third act bloat and slowdown, Knight and Day mostly works in a way that too few studio blockbusters do anymore. It’s fun, it’s light, and while it’s not quite ‘smart,’ it’s not so stupid as to be distracting or offensive.
The first thirty or forty minutes of Knight and Day are probably the best; the earliest action scenes are fun and improbable in an engaging way, an improbability the rest of the film never quite tops. Tom Cruise is a secret agent who may or may not have gone rogue and Cameron Diaz is the civilian who inadvertently gets swept up his life. The movie doesn’t really give you a good reason for Cruise’s character to keep Diaz around, but the first half of the film is so well paced and so filled with lively action and winking movie star moments that you don’t really stop to wonder why. By the time you do wonder what the point of lugging Diaz across the globe was you’re well in the film’s grasp.
Cruise plays superspy Roy Miller as the ultimate boy scout – always helpful, smiling and patient, he’s almost too nice. Early on the movie makes a half-hearted attempt to convince the audience that Roy is nuts and has gone rogue, and Cruise’s own public wackiness helps sell that. Sadly this is a big summer Tom Cruise movie, so you know going in that there’s no way he’s actually a murderous rogue lunatic, but for a little while it’s fun to pretend.
It’s a role that Cruise is completely comfortable in, and I bet it’s somewhat similar to how he is in real life. Slightly manic and impossibly kind, Miller is a very old fashioned hero. I got a serious Superman vibe from Cruise in the role, and I think Knight and Day proves that while the actor never had the height to be the Man of Steel, he certainly had the aw shucks charm. More importantly, Knight and Day should mark Cruise’s return from the wilderness – yes, he is still the movie star so many have loved for so many years, and maybe we can forgive him all that couch jumping after all. He’s at ease and he’s having fun, and unless the film uses some truly excellent digital face replacement on stunt men (which is unlikely since the film can’t even make people riding a motorcycle in front of a green screen look modestly convincing), he’s also doing some cool stunts of his own.
The other half of the equation is Cameron Diaz, whose just-this-side-of-frazzled schtick plays well off of Cruise’s cool, calm and sweet. The two have a reasonable chemistry, although it’s nothing world breaking – you can definitely get why Diaz falls for Roy Miller, but it’s harder to see why the superspy takes such a shine this semi-ditzy classic car mechanic (some points, I guess, in trying to make Diaz’s character not just a cookie cutter femme). Diaz is often given the unforgiving stuff – the screaming, the confusion, the passing out – so she isn’t as much fun as Cruise. But the structure of the film is such that we’re seeing things through her eyes – sometimes literally, including a very funny sequence where she keeps passing out and coming to during different action scenes – so it’s important that we can stand her, and that we can.
It’s dicier with some of the supporting cast. Peter Sarsgaard is a dasterdly CIA agent of no fixed accent, while Paul Dano is a whiz kid whose facial hair is so obviously spirit gummed to his face that I thought it was on purpose, like he was in a bad disguise. Dano has invented a super battery called the Zephyr, and Sarsgaard wants to sell it to the highest bidder. The movie makes some half-hearted attempts to trick us into thinking that maybe Cruise is the bad guy but there’s no way anyone in the audience is buying that.
While Cruise is actually pretty great, it’s his presence that hurts some of the film’s attempts at not being cloddingly obvious. When you have Tom Cruise as the lead in your summer blockbuster there are a couple of things you can rule out, and him being evil or getting killed are the first two. It’s too bad because I could see a version of this movie where both the Sarsgaard and Cruise characters are played by actors of equal fame and type, keeping the audience guessing. The film even briefly throws in a competing love interest for Diaz, but if you think Marc Blucas is stealing the lady from Tom Cruise you are out of your mind.
That predictability begins to weigh the film down in the second half. The best stuff is right up front, and there is briefly a feeling that the movie could go anywhere. By the second half you can see the end game coming, and what’s worse is that you can see every step that has to be taken to get there, but there’s still fun to be had. Sadly not as much fun as at the beginning – the first half of the movie feels like nobody gave James Mangold any restrictions and then the second half comes across like a more average high octane summer film, but with a smile. The first two action scenes are patently ludicrous, while the last couple are just standard impossible, as per the expectations of the genre.
There’s a good fifteen minutes that could be easily cut – the revelation of why the movie is called Knight and Day is pretty worthless, all told (and it really only explains why it’s called Knight. I never figured out what the hell the Day part was. It’s not Diaz’s character’s last name – but there’s plenty in the film that works as it is. Knight and Day is the rare sort of modern film shot on locations; maybe I’m just getting to be an old man, but I’m more interested in seeing a practical action scene taking place in a beautiful real foreign locale as opposed to a CGI action scene taking place against a green screen. Knight and Day is a globehopper, and in many ways the locations are worth the price of the ticket. Fifty years ago the poster for a movie like Knight and Day would have boasted of being shot in Austria and Spain and the tropics.
Knight and Day
is like a daredevil jumping his bike over a row of school buses. You’re amazed at how far he gets and how high he goes, but you’re not that surprised when he can’t quite stick the landing. The film has a couple of fairly brilliant action-comedy moments, and it’s filled with plenty of feather light entertainment. Knight and Day is an enjoyable matinee that will dissolve away from you as step out into the summer sun, refreshed and smiling.
7 out of 10