Review: ‘Knight and Day’

I enjoyed Knight and Day quite a bit more than I expected to. Mind you, the bar was scraping the ground when I entered the theater. I thought the movie would be a complete disaster. Tom Cruise wore out his welcome with me long before the infamous couch jumping antics,  and while I generally enjoy Diaz, I just wasn’t sure about her playing opposite Cruise.

Cruise stars as CIA agent Roy Miller, who is on the run from his handlers.  He is feverishly  casing an airport when he spies June (played by Cameron Diaz.) Shortly thereafter, he  deliberately bumps into her, staging a “chance” encounter.

A few moments later, the two run into one another again, and you can practically see the gears going in June’s head.  Cute guy+fate = romantic opportunity. Her daydreaming is derailed when she is denied entrance onto the plane that her new friend is boarding.  He assures her, “Everything happens for a reason.”

At the last minute, she is inexplicably allowed on board, and doesn’t seem too thrown by the fact that there are only a handful of passengers on the full-sized plane.  She nervously gulps a cocktail and engages in some banter with her handsome new friend. When she goes to the ladies room to freshen up and give herself a pep talk, Roy seizes the opportunity to dispose of the entire planeload of passengers in various unsavory ways. All the occupants were after Roy, or more importantly, something Roy has.

Unbeknownst to June, she has been brought onto the plane because security cameras caught Roy slipping something into her bag during their first encounter.  The CIA  believes that she is working with Roy.

Now June is forced to trust Roy, and join him on the run from the CIA. They visit exotic locales, and there is nary a break in the action for the entire running time of the film.  It’s actually quite fun.

June is approached by authorities who try to convince her that Roy is an agent who has gone mad; none of the stories he has been feeding her are true.  The kicker for June is that he does seem a bit mad, but wouldn’t you have to be a little nuts to put yourself in such dangerous situations every day of your life?  It would call for a bit of a kamikaze mentality. We’ve seen this type of character before in Lethal Weapon,  48 Hours, Rush Hour, and countless other movies.

It’s time for me to eat some crow when it comes to Mr. Cruise.   He knows he will never be perceived the same way he used to be, pre-Oprah, and he has owned that. After his PR disaster,  he wisely made an about face with his career and chose a role that deliberately played him against type.  His performance as Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder was wildly popular, and the public welcomed him back with open arms.

Following that by starring  in Knight and Day as agent Roy Miller is a brilliant career move.  Here, his past almost lends credibility to the character.  Miller is a cocky, impulsive  risk-taker.  Is that really so much of a stretch for Cruise?  Of course not.  Thus, you immediately buy into the character.

Cruise is enjoyable as hell to watch here, and it is obvious that Tropic Thunder was no fluke.  The man has some comedy chops, no doubt.  I even found him charming. (It really smarted to write that, but I give credit where credit is due.)

Unfortunately, his affable character seems to have gotten the best of everything.  I almost got the feeling that this was carefully written specifically to benefit Cruise’s career.  Diaz’s character is thrown completely under the bus.

It is a real disappointment to see such a poorly written female character in this film, particularly when such pains were taken with Cruise’s character.  Diaz has proven that she can handle physically demanding roles.  She kicked some ass and then some in Charlie’s Angels.

Why then is she reduced to a shrieking, whiny,  sissy of a woman for the first half of the film? (Think Willie from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.)  Ironically, we are to believe that she restores classic cars for a living.  I just hated to see the whole helpless female tag-a-long stereotype being perpetuated once again.  I’m not sure that any other actress would have fared better working with this role as it is written.

The film tries to smarten up her character in the last third, but by then June’s empowerment feels sudden and disingenuous.  More upsetting is a plot device that is played for laughs multiple times.  Whenever June becomes too much of a liability, Roy simply drugs her.  She will wake up in a new location, in new clothes,  with no memory of how she got there.

I didn’t find it funny.  I found it disturbing and demeaning toward her character.  I got a creepy date-rape vibe from the whole matter, and it was a poor decision to play it for laughs, time and time again.

As with almost any spy or espionage movie, you must completely suspend your need for realism.  Very early on, I made the decision to do so.  The plane was experiencing severe turbulence, and June is allowed to move about the cabin freely.  Perhaps a small continuity error to some, but I knew at that moment if I were to enjoy the movie at all, I would have to cease mental nit-picking.

Director James Mangold knows his way around a movie.  He previously directed 3:10 to Yuma and Walk the Line. The film is tightly paced, and well directed, with some spectacular action sequences.  Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano, and Viola Davis round out a strong supporting cast. Maggie Grace also appears briefly as June’s sister.

Knight and Day is a somewhat pleasant movie that could have been great with a little honing of the script and characters.  Still, you will enjoy yourself, and Cruise and Diaz fans will be thrilled.  Cruise comes out of this one smelling like a rose and reaffirms his star wattage, which is no small feat.

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