A film review by Craig J. Koban June 30, 2010


2010, PG-13, 109 mins.


Roy Miller: Tom Cruise / June Havens: Cameron Diaz / Fitzgerald: Peter Sarsgaard / Director: George Viola Davis / Antonio: Jordi Molla / Molly: Celia Weston

Directed by James Mangold / Written by Patrick O'Neill

What do we got in this film?

We have attractive and charming mega-stars, glamorous and exotic locales around the world, action and mayhem galore, and a nifty MacGuffin for good measure.  That’s essentially what the pitch to studio executives must have been like for KNIGHT AND DAY, a new romantic spy-thriller/action comedy that, to be fair, gets a considerable amount of mileage out of its two appealing and likeable lead actors.  This is the kind of fairly brainless, disposable, forgettable, and somewhat trivial caper flick that begs one question:  

Can a feisty and whimsical tone and a pair of high profile stars that effortlessly click and have decent, unforced chemistry be enough to save a film’s flaws? 

Short answersort of. 

KNIGHT AND DAY has a few things definitely going for it, the first being be that it generates a considerable amount of story momentum: it moves so vigorously at times that it almost makes you forgive the silliness and faults of the overall plot.  Secondly, stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz –sharing the screen for the first time since 2001’s VANILLA SKY – are dutifully effective here in their respective roles as the spy-next-door and the girl-next-door.  Thirdly, the film seems to have  fun when it comes to both paying homage to and lampooning the conventions of other classic action genre efforts, like James Bond, the Jason Bourne Trilogy, and even the Cruise starring MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series.  Lastly, KNIGHT AND DAY has a great MacGuffin…you know…the Hitchcockian phrase for an unexplained item that everyone in a film wants.  Well, this MacGuffin is a bit more explained than most: it’s called the Zephyr and it is, quite simply, a battery that never expires or wears out.  Cool.

I guess the problem with the film is that it sort of flounders in its attempts at a very difficult balancing act: it wants to be fairly straight laced and action packed spy film and a spoof of spy films, and that is something that director James Mangold does not seem to capture really well.  The film’s tone is sort of all over the map and  deliriously skitzo.  Beyond that, the film’s superficial correlation to KILLERS does not help either (another action romcom about a tough as nails super covert agent that becomes romantically involved to a ditzy and defenseless woman).  Granted, Cruise and Diaz and a much more enjoyable and involving on-screen pair than Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher and they bring significantly more wit and presence to their roles.  Yet, KNIGHT AND DAY feels like it wants to be high concept and innovative, but the end results are too low impact: the story feels like a hundred others I’ve seen (nerdy inventor makes a device that bad guys want, needs protection from the invulnerable good guy, which leads to a cat and mouse chase around the world between the good guy and bad guys, with female cargo in tow).  It’s more of a amped up retread of other spy films than one that radically subverts the genre.

The film opens with a great “meet-cute”.  June Havens (Diaz) finds herself trying to convince an airline representative to allow her on to a Boston bound flight in order to be on time for her sister’s wedding.  While trying to make it to the gate she has a seemingly nonchalant, but ultimately chance meeting with a handsome and charismatic stranger named Roy Miller (Cruise).  They part ways, but they bump into each other again before the flight.  When the pair do manage to board the airline they try to acquaint themselves to one another and the film has good pacing here with these introductory scenes.  Ron and June seem like the obligatory match made in heaven.

Uh…not quite.  When June decides to go to the plane’s washroom, Roy then proceeds to kill everyone on board the plane, including the pilots (granted, they all seemed to have attacked him first).  When June returns to Roy he deadpans that he just murdered everyone on the plane, but she thinks that he is just joking with her.  However, when Roy excuses himself and goes into the cockpit to land the plane, June’s giddiness gives way to terror and apprehension.  He then lands the plane in a nearby cornfield and gets June out safely, but he warns her that a series of governmental agents (that will seem to appear lawfully good) want her and him dead.  To protect her, Roy drugs her, takes her back home, and when she awakens he is mysteriously gone. 

Now, June is seriously conflicted: either Roy is a dangerous lunatic capable of mass murder or he is as he says - a rogue agent that is being set up by his own government.  She tries to pick up the pieces of her life and move on, but she is cornered by a slick and coldly determined FBI agent named Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard) who tries to convince her that Roy is, in fact, a fanatically mad threat to national security.  Fitzgerald, however, is a figure that does not earn a large amount of easy trust either, and in a protracted and large-scale action sequence, Roy swoops in (literally) and manages to re-secure June away from her FBI captors.  At this point she has to make a quick choice as to whether she will trust Roy and ally herself with him or go back to the Feds.  Roy explains to her how that he is attempting to protect the inventor of the aforementioned MacGuffin, Simon Fleck (Paul Dano) so that the device does not find itself in the wrong hands.  Unfortunately, the more June begins to trust her enigmatic new man in her life, the more evidence begins to surface that Roy may not have been completely forthcoming with her about everything. 


Again, from the perspective of a breezy, mindless, and preposterous summer action vehicle, KNIGHT AND DAY does not reinvent the wheel, but, yes, Cruise and Diaz do make an affable couple with a genuine rapport.  Diaz’s June is the type of bright, spunky, sexy, and clumsy chick that she can inhabit in her sleep, but she plays these types of roles well and with a sassy brassiness (even though I never, ever bought her character as a restorer of rare cars).  Similarly, Cruise shifts into familiar gears of his leading man repertoire – an outgoing, pleasant minded, hunky, mischievous, and pearly-white-toothed suitor – but he also exhibits a lot of zeal when it comes to sending up his own past Ethan Hunt persona.  After seeing him in serious parts through the last decade, it’s a welcoming relief to see Cruise relax into more self-deprecatingly comedic roles.  He reminds us here – as he did to great success TROPIC THUNDER – why he is capable of seriously bringing the funny with the best of them.   

I liked Cruise.  I liked Diaz.  I liked their flirtatious banter and interplay.  I liked the ridiculousness of the script that makes no apologies for being absurd (trying to find loopholes in it would have proven foolhardy).  I liked the sumptuous location shooting and exquisite locales (the cinematography by Phedon Papamichael is in love with the natural wonders here as much as he is the closely composed shots of the mugs of his two stars).  I just wish that the film found its way more efficiently between the loving tribute and acerbic parody of the spy film template.  Grade-A super-stars and great visual interest are key, but there is not much in the way of intrigue or tension in the film.  Cruise and Diaz are able to superhumanly evade their captors in an endless series of improbable chase sequences through locales as far ranging as Boston to Salzburg to Cadiz, so much so that you never really fear for their safety.  Even when Mangold shoots the action in a refreshingly clear manner (so welcome in the nauseating era of the queasy cam), too many of the scenes are punctuated by GCI overkill (like a late sequence involving a dubiously fake looking stampeding herd of bulls in the streets of Spain).  The pair has so many near-death experiences involving planes, helicopters, motorcycles, cars, trains, machine gun bullets, knives, exploding bombs, etc. that you rarely doubt that they won't make it out in one piece.   

A few of other sticking points: the film squanders the talents of great actors like Peter Sarsgaard and Viola Davis.  Sarsgaard, one of our most unappreciated character actors, is kind of invisible as his duplicitous government agent and is not given much to do here.  Davis - so raw and powerful in DOUBT - dutifully, but simplistically, plays her role of a no-nonsense and tough CIA boss.  The film also shows the wears of its sorted production history: The script went through an intolerable amount of screenwriters and revisions (nine by my research) and several eleventh hour re-shoots were also haphazardly implemented.  This, no doubt, contributed to KNIGHT AND DAY’s semi-disjointed and uneven look and feel.  There is certainly an enjoyable hint of romance, non-stop/high octane action, and espionage-laced comic frivolity here to make for a modest diversion at the multiplexes this summer.  Yet, KNIGHT AND DAY spins its tires a bit too much and underwhelms more than it should exhilarate and thrill.  

Yup, the star power helps too, just not enough.

  H O M E