June 22, 2010

Knight and Day

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Knight and Day

ACTION/COMEDY:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-06-23

Running Length:

1:45

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Jordi Molla, Viola Davis, Paul Dano

Director:

James Mangold

Screenplay:

Patrick O'Neill

Cinematography:

Phedon Papamichael

Music:

John Powell

U.S. Distributor:

20th Century Fox

Subtitles:

none


The action/comedy genre has grown in popularity over the past couple of decades, but it remains difficult for filmmakers to find a workable balance between the seemingly disparate elements of the recipe. Too much action often results in marginalized and unfunny humor; too much comedy often results in dull and suspense-deprived action. Fortunately, James Mangold, whose diverse resume includes the likes of 3:10 to Yuma and Walk the Line, hits upon a workable mix for the ingredients. Knight and Day plays like part-homage/part-parody and, while the storyline does not hold up on close inspection, it works "in the moment" because the chases and fights are filmed with energy and élan and because the actors achieve the romantic intangible often referred to as "chemistry."

Knight and Day opens in an airport, with June Havens (Cameron Diaz) trying to talk her way onto a Boston-bound flight in order to be back early for her sister's nuptials. On the way to the gate, her path briefly crosses with that of a charming guy who identifies himself as Roy Miller (Tom Cruise). They re-connect on the flight, but Roy turns out to be more dangerous than one might suspect from his smile. He is either (a) a dangerously unstable rogue agent who is hell-bent on selling a major technological device on the black market, or (b) an honest super-spy who has been set up by an unscrupulous co-worker. The fact that he kills everyone on the plane except June before crash-landing the aircraft and drugging her into insensibility argues more strongly in favor of (a) than (b). But the man pursuing Roy, an FBI agent named Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard), doesn't inspire unquestioning devotion, either. So, when Roy lands on the hood of June's speeding car as it careens down the freeway while being chased by gun-happy Federal agents, she has to make a snap decision whether or not to trust him.

Perhaps the most important aspect of an action romantic comedy is tone, and Knight and Day captures the appropriate blend of whimsy and excitement. The action sequences are well choreographed and never so long that they become boring, the romance between the two leads is neither too cute nor too snarky, and the comedy is more often amusing than not. I was strongly reminded of Shane Black's underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which does a lot of the same things for a slightly more mature audience. (This movie is rated PG-13 while Kiss Kiss Bang Bang deserves its R.) There's also an element of Mr. and Mrs. Smith here, although I'd argue this movie does a better job with the action/comedy mélange than that one. The more closely one examines the storyline of Knight and Day, the more obvious the holes become, but the movie isn't designed to stand up to close inspection. It's intended to be enjoyable without overtaxing the brain, and it easily achieves that goal.

For the first time in a long time, Tom Cruise regains the form that made him one of the biggest box office stars of the late '80s and early '90s. Watching the ease with which he slides into this role and the effortlessness with which he lampoon his Mission: Impossible character, it's not difficult to forget the actor's sometimes irrational off-screen behavior. This is vintage Cruise, with the smile and the devilish twinkle in his eye recalling Risky Business and Top Gun. He is well-matched by Cameron Diaz, who seems re-invigorated here. Movies like Knight and Day rely on a strong, unforced rapport between the leads, and that's what is in evidence: a coupling of playful sexuality and genuine affection. If Cruise and Diaz didn't seem to enjoy each other's company, the movie would fall on its face.

Knight and Day offers a stronger first half than second. The movie is at its best when the audience is in the dark and, because our perspective is June's and she doesn't know what the hell is going on until well into the proceedings, that's when things are the most entertaining. Often in monster movies, the more we see of the creature, the less frightening it is. In Knight and Day, the more we learn about Roy Miller and the truth regarding his involvement in a major technology caper, the less interesting the story becomes. The final half hour is fueled primarily by the interaction between Cruise and Diaz and occasional flashes of irreverent humor.

Knight and Day endured a turbulent road to the screen, undergoing various cast and director changes before Cruise and Mangold came on board. The screenplay was shepherded through a number of uncredited re-writes (including one by Scott Frank) before it was deemed to be up to the standards of those involved in the production. There were also numerous re-shoots, some as recent as a few months before the release date. Often, that much churn leads to a disjointed production, but not here. Knight and Day flows smoothly and, like a milkshake on a hot summer day, it goes down cool and easy, even if the calorie count is a bit high.

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