Knight & Day
(James Mangold, 2010, USA)
Although 2006 witnessed a brief respite with the third in the Mission Impossible series, Mission Impossible 3, and 2008’s Tropic Thunder featured a comedic meandering from his usually dramatic roles, Tom Cruise’s career has not been on form of late. Whether grappling with Oprah Winfrey’s couch or exercising his devotion to scientology, the once usually dependable star has jaded his loyal fans whilst not exactly winning himself over any new admirers, who possibly are not aware of his successful 80’s outbreak and anthology of memorable summer blockbusters.
Suffering from the dreary Lions for Lambs and Bryan Singer’s misguided Valkyrie, Cruise has been (excuse the pun) on cruise control for a while, falling short of the usually entertaining output found in his glory days within either the action, comedy or romantic genres (Jerry Maguire and Magnolia house two of his finest performances). This is similar to Cameron Diaz, who has hopped from one annoying performance to another for quite some time whilst somehow attracting all the worst screenplays Hollywood has to offer. Building upon their erstwhile chemistry seen in 2001’s mind-bending Vanilla Sky, Cruise and Diaz have teamed up once again for action caper Knight & Day, to various degrees of success. The chemistry is intact and the intentions are positive, but it is wasted on a tedious film and a hackneyed script which is directed by a man capable of so much more.
James Mangold directed the brilliant Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, a film in which he demonstrated his competency with working with two fine leading actors alongside a compelling story, he also co-wrote the screenplay with Gill Dennis. Perhaps one of the problems with Knight & Day is that Mangold merely directs and doesn’t get involved in the writing side, though this is a mere downside compared to the frankly ridiculous narrative, which withholds reality and features some of the most laughable plot holes I have seen in a movie for some time. Mangold cannot direct action, or comedy for that matter, and it shows; Knight & Day has some tolerable set-pieces, but the execution is lazy and the film never allows the audience to become fully engaged. It’s the type of movie where identities are questionable, characters can’t always be trusted and allegiances shift continuously, but it left this viewer finding it hard to care less.
After a not so chanceful encounter at an airport and an in-flight scuffle, June Havens (Diaz) becomes associated with Roy Miller (Cruise), a rogue secret agent who is being targeted for assassination by his employers; the CIA. They want him taken out as he is in possession of an object called the ‘Zephyr’; a powerful battery which has the ability to power a small city and has been produced by peculiar genius Simon Feck (Dano), who has gone into hiding under Roy’s instruction. Now that June is involved, she must work alongside Roy to evade capture and remain alive, all the while never really ascertaining the truth behind the spy’s mysterious identity. Is he who he says he is, or is he aiming to exploit the Zephyr’s powerful abilities for personal gain?
Tonally the film is scattershot at best, with scenes involving either comedy, action, corruption and espionage never managing to come together and the briskness of the editing does not make up for the numerously gaping plot holes. For example, when action sequences get into full swing, one of the characters is either drugged or knocked unconscious and the storyline skips ahead to a new location and a new predicament, with viewers left to fill in the blanks. This is narrative ellipsis at its very worst, and although the settings are lavish and diverse, this odd plot device is misleading and rather frustrating.
Admittedly the films’ only upside is watching Cruise doing what he does best once again, mixing his seemingly effortless physical abilities with an enjoyable comedic timing which, although isn’t as ballsy as his Len Grossman in Tropic Thunder, does raise a fair few laughs which are intentional, unlike much of the other sniggers expressed at the ridiculousness of the plot. Physically he is in great shape and still convinces throughout the films many implausible action sequences; when he’s either taking out multiple assassins on board a mobile airplane (and landing it in a nearby cornfield), dismounting a racing motorcycle in mid air or partaking in a dangerous shootout on a hectic highway.
The actor is still as watchable as ever, Diaz on the other hand flits between a grating mixture of aggravation and a doe-eyed attempt at becoming a likeable action heroine, who goes from batting her eyelids in ditsy wonderment to representing a dimwit’s answer to Lara Croft, never once making her character transitions believable or convincing. Sarsgaard, Davis and Dano all contribute competent yet vacant performances, safe in the knowledge that they can do so much better.
As a vehicle for Cruise to demonstrate his ageless physicality and charm, Knight & Day will satisfy the appetite of the easily pleased action junky, but as a return to form, fans will have to wait for the oncoming fourth Mission Impossible movie to see if he can rein back his reputation. That film will be directed by Pixar hero Brad Bird, a director, unlike Mangold, who knows how to direct a blend of comedy and action with appealing characters. The Incredibles bore witness to that, and that was an animated yarn with a child’s demographic in mind, unlike this brainless disappointment.
- The Incredibles, 2004. [Film] Directed by Brad Bird, USA: Pixar Animation Studios.
- Jerry Maguire, 1996. [Film] Directed by Cameron Crowe,USA: Gracie Films.
- Knight & Day, 2010. [Film] Directed by James Mangold, USA: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
- Lions for Lambs, 2007. [Film] Directed by Robert Redford, USA: Andell Entertainment.
- Magnolia, 1999. [Film] Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson,USA: Ghoulardi Film Company.
- Mission: Impossible 3, 2006. [Film] Directed by J.J. Abrams,USA: Paramount Pictures.
- Tropic Thunder, 2008. [Film] Directed by Ben Stiller, USA: Dreamworks SKG.
- Vanilla Sky, 2001. [Film] Directed by Cameron Crowe, USA: Paramount Pictures.
- Valkyrie, 2008. [Film] Directed by Bryan Singer, USA/Germany: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).
- Walk the Line, 2005. [Film] Directed by James Mangold, USA: Fox 2000 Pictures.