Knight and Day suffers from what I see as one of the most egregious transgressions possible in the film world: being completely average. The most interesting films are almost always either A) great movies or B) unmitigated disasters worthy of tearing apart. Since Knight and Day isn’t especially interesting, it doesn’t fall into either category; James Mangold has made some impressive films before (Cop Land, Walk the Line, 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma), but this isn’t one of them. This film doesn’t ask to be taken seriously, but it fails to convincingly bring us along for the ride.
Much has been made of Tom Cruise’s behavior over the past few years, but I’ve remained staunchly in the camp that appreciates his acting talents and still considers him an entertaining personality. He can do whatever he wants off screen, and as long as he entertains me when I buy a ticket to one of his films, I’ll be pleased. Knight and Day was hailed as his comeback film – “Tom Cruise at his ‘Jerry Maguire‘ best,” the TV spots proclaimed – but so far it has performed poorly at the box office. Since the film’s opening, there have been many articles written about how Cruise’s career is over, proclaiming he’s no longer the bankable actor he once was. Sure, he might not bring in as much money as he did in his prime, but I don’t think Cruise is anywhere near the end of his career. The guy just got an entire film greenlit centered on Les Grossman, his character in Tropic Thunder. And he’s still got the upcoming fourth installment of Mission: Impossible franchise. He’s not going anywhere. Pajiba has a pretty good article up about this very topic right now, so head that way if you’re interested.
Make no mistake, though – Tom Cruise makes Knight and Day watchable. The film certainly can’t depend on Cameron Diaz to hold the movie on her shoulders; she’s not offensively bad or anything, but she simply doesn’t have the charisma that Cruise effortlessly exudes on screen. There’s something about his affable persona (“I’m the guy! I’m the guy!”) that makes him mesmerizing to watch. The Jerry Maguire connection can certainly be felt in lines of dialogue like the “With me…without me” repetition bit from the trailers, echoing the delivery style of his famous “Help me help you!” line from the 1996 film.
But try as Cruise might, even he can’t manage to make this script believable. It’s Mission: Impossible Lite, a spy story not imbued with any sense of danger and reliant on a script that increasingly tests the audience’s ability to suspend their disbelief. Any time the main characters get into a predicament that seems insurmountable, one of them is drugged and then, through flashes of consciousness, the problem is miraculously solved off screen. This is the debut feature for writer Patrick O’Neill, and his lack of experience and creativity translates to the final product. Lazy writing prevents us from actually seeing the most interesting parts of the film, and even though Mangold tries to cover for it with out-of-focus blurriness and POV shots, it’s painfully obvious that these scenes equate to a massive cop out.
There are other problems, too: Diaz’s character is not particularly likable, and makes a series of bad decisions that make it hard for the audience to pull for her to succeed. Her chemistry with Cruise is present, but not overly convincing. There’s a truth serum sequence that’s been done to death in action comedy films long before this one (True Lies immediately comes to mind), and the ending – while shying away from a terrible finale I thought they would settle for – is cliche to the point of nausea. I’m guessing a sizeable portion of the film’s budget went to special effects, which, for the most part, were disappointingly dismal. Also, the title only makes partial sense – you’ll see why if you see the movie.
The supporting cast may as well not have shown up at all. Viola Davis is a one-note CIA chief, and Maggie Grace, who plays Diaz’s character’s sister, has little more than a cameo. Peter Sarsgaard (an actor I usually really like – he was fantastic in Shattered Glass) had one of the worst Southern accents I’ve heard in recent memory, and was just godawful as a fellow agent out to get Cruise’s character. Paul Dano, a guy I consider to be one of the best young actors in Hollywood right now, was horribly miscast as a tech nerd who developed The Zephyr, a MacGuffin that moves the plot forward. Dano has done some really great work in the past, and the only reason I can figure he’d be willing to do this part is to fulfill a childhood fantasy about working with Tom Cruise. [Note – I have no idea if Dano actually had a childhood fantasy about working with Tom Cruise.] A lot of actors could have played this part, considering how little he actually appeared in the film; Dano didn’t add much to it and I wish he used this time to fully explore his talents elsewhere. Combined, all of these supporting actors shared about ten minutes of screen time.
To be fair, this movie does have some good moments. The opening plane scene is very fun to watch, and there are a few “Tom Cruise running” shots across the rooftops of Vienna that will make solid additions to the montage videos on YouTube. There’s also a sequence in which Cameron Diaz accidentally empties a full magazine of bullets from an automatic weapon, swinging her arm frantically in circles around Tom Cruise’s character, who tries to dodge her erratic fire and – SPOILER! – narrowly avoids getting shot. It’s a scene that sounds kind of stupid on paper, but works pretty well in the film; I’ve never seen it done before on screen, and in an action-comedy that seems content to be a mashup of True Lies, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and every other “couple spy” movie of the past few years, any new idea presented on screen makes me take note.
There were two parts that I freaking loved about this film. One involved a quick “Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions” shot, but the other was a bit more complicated. Sarsgaard enters a train car where Cruise and Diaz were just minutes before and examines the window. Breathing directly on it, he discovers someone traced a circle with his/her finger on the glass. As Sarsgaard looks through the circle, he sees Cruise – wearing sunglasses, natch – in the busy crowd outside, standing directly in the center of the circle. Cruise then instantly disappears. Let’s think about that for a second. For someone to have the foresight to not only know that his opponent is going to inexplicably breathe on the glass and draw a circle on it, and also figure out the exact angle at which his opponent would look through the aforementioned circle and stand in that exact spot is nothing short of amazing. For this feat alone, Tom Cruise’s character should be given The Most Badass Guy in the History of Ever award.
Knight and Day reminds me of 2008’s Vantage Point: that film had a great cast, an interesting premise, and was well-directed, but somehow ended up being almost totally forgettable. The whole was inexplicably not as good as the sum of its parts. This movie, despite having a decent cast and a competent director, just can’t overcome a level of mediocrity that holds it down and prevents it from being one of this summer’s better theatrical offerings. (Note: this summer has also been one of the most disappointing in years.) Save your money and catch this one on TNT in 2012. Until next time…