|Tom Cruise fights to escape his thetans...I mean, bulls. Cameron Diaz holds on for dear life.|
Knight and Day, a worthy Cruise revival
It’s been a rough bundle of years for Tom “Couch Jumper” Cruise. He’s been almost universally declared a self-important nutbar, his marriage gets more press than his movies, and his days as a member of the Hollywood Elite were numbered by the media when he began declaring himself Alien Overlord of Prescription Medication Advice.
I’ve done my fair share of time on the Tom Cruise is Crazy bandwagon, believe me, but I honestly think we’ve been a little unfair to the guy. Anyone with that much money and under that much scrutiny every second of his life is bound to go just a little bonkers, and sooner or later we’re going to have to face the fact that most stars, in any medium, are always going to be a little…eccentric.
Apart from the bright spot that was his cameo in Tropic Thunder and his Nazi flop Valkyrie, Cruise has been largely dormant for the past few years, preferring instead to spend his time being rich and having a kid with Katie Holmes. So it was with a mix of anticipation and apprehension that I marched into the theatre to check out Knight and Day, Cruise’s much-touted return to the action flick scene.
It was never going to be a mega-hit, and the studio honchos who’ve paraded Cruise back out into the public eye had to see that coming, but honestly, all the speculation, paparazzi glare and bad stigma aside, Knight and Day is, well…good.
June Havens (Cameron Diaz) is having a very ordinary flight from Wichita home to Boston to prep for her sister’s wedding. The flight gets a little less ordinary when she meets handsome, charming Roy Miller (Cruise), who she almost instantly has the hots for. But while June is in the bathroom, Roy is busy killing everyone else on the flight (it turns out they were all sent to kill him), and when the in-flight chatting resumes, it becomes clear to June that something is very different about Roy.
After the plane lands in a cornfield and June wakes up in Boston, she finds herself enveloped in a massive government conspiracy revolving around a wunderkind physicist (Paul Dano), a CIA agent (Peter Sarsgaard) and Roy, who is apparently also a CIA agent who’s gone rogue under mysterious circumstances. For reasons beyond her understanding, June is also part of it, and finds herself up to her ears in an international spy game filled with shootouts, car chases and explosions while all she wants to do is get back home to her bridesmaid dress.
It’s the kind of flick that you’d think were very silly if the filmmakers hadn’t tried very hard to beat you to the punch. What really makes the film is not the action or the intrigue, though there’s plenty of both. It’s the comedy. Lots of spy flicks have tried and failed to make you feel the frustration, confusion and flat-out panic that would ensue if an ordinary person got caught in a web of ultra-violence and covert ops, but few are successful in actually depicting it in any way that isn’t infuriatingly awkward. Knight and Day is one of those rare successes, and as such the interplay between its two stars is the heart of what makes it fun.
Diaz has always been good at being the in-over-her-head freakout girl, and she’s no different here. June is insecure, terrified and hilarious while managing to come off strong at the same time, which isn’t easy to do, believe me. Cruise maintains the same natural cool that he’s had for 25 years now, and actually uses his new “crazy” label to his advantage. His Roy Miller is unstable, unpredictable and really, really funny, and the interplay between Roy and June makes up the meatiest part of this flick.
Where things grow thin, though, are the in-between moments. Screenwriter Patrick O’Neill (in his feature debut) seems to devote his every energy to making the big, big moments as cool as possible, and for the most part he manages to succeed. But when everything begins to cool down he either skips over what happens next altogether (by drugging June and making it a montage of jumbled images) or fumbles the dialogue. It is here that the flick manages to miss greatness. We can pass this off as a beginner’s mistake, but if O’Neill wants to play the big leagues, he’s got to learn to go nine innings.
Director James Mangold (Walk the Line) isn’t a beginner, and shows it. I could go on for quite a while about his directorial prowess, but I’ll skip to the goods. I’m an action movie fan, and one of the perils of being such a fan is that you develop a cynicism for certain action film conventions. It becomes impossible in your eyes for certain things to truly be done right.
In this case I’m talking about car chases, folks. Anyone who’s ever seen Bullitt or Terminator 2: Judgment Day knows that it’s hard to be impressed by a car chase anymore, but wonder of wonders, Mangold pulls it off with a weaving motorcycle meets car meets bull romp through the streets of Seville. Though he’s also guilty of blowing up a car by shooting the gas cap (really?), Mangold redeems himself by actually showing me a chase sequence I can thoroughly get behind.
Even if you don’t like Cruise, even if you never liked him, even if you’re convinced that his greatness peaked with Top Gun, you can’t deny the man’s a star, and all the crazy private life stuff aside, Knight and Day once again proves that.
Matt’s Call: This flick was bound to get overshadowed by all the other blockbuster fare swirling around it (Pattinson!), but you could do worse than to make a date night out of it. It’s fun, it’s easy and best of all, no one turns into a wolf.