Sunday, July 4, 2010

Knight and Day Movie Review

Knight and Day is absolutely the kind of cheap (and I’m not referring to the budget) mindless entertainment I should hate, but there was something about this Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz star vehicle that was really quite enjoyable.

The film is directed by James Mangold from a script by Patrick O’Neil. Mangold is establishing himself as a good action director whose indie roots with films like Heavy and Cop Land taught him not to lose sight of character development. His 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma is probably his best film, but I still think he has a substantial, if not great, film in him yet. He’s got a great feel for action pacing. Clocking in at 105 minutes, Knight and Day is a breath of fresh air from the bloated excess of the 2 hour plus action films that normally come from the big studios.

The plot is an absurd amalgam of all the espionage and international intrigue films you can think of. It’s got a superspy, a damsel in distress, an eccentric genius, double agents, plot twists and turnarounds, a kindly non-threatening agency director, exotic locations and a MacGuffin.

Cruise’s Roy Miller (superspy) is out to save a precious everlasting super battery (the MacGuffin) invented by a college kid named Simon (the eccentric genius played by Paul Dano). For reasons not quite clear until much later in the film, he targets June Havens (damsel in distress Diaz) in the Wichita airport (exotic location – not really). She accidentally winds up on his flight back to Boston, during which Miller kills every passenger and crew member on board. Incidentally, the only people on board were government agents working against Miller. He claims he’s the good guy being framed as delusional by one Agent Fitzgerald (double agent, or is it Miller?) played by Peter Sarsgaard in a role he could sleepwalk through. After several start and stop attempts by Roy to keep June out of danger (first by drugging her, then by kidnapping her, then drugging her again) they wind up in the Azores, then the Austrian Alps and finally in Seville (exotic locations).

The details of the plot hardly matter nor why they find themselves in different global locations. The devil is in the details, they say and here they’re merely in service to various action set pieces, occasionally witty, if conventional, dialogue and some truly excellent chemistry between Cruise and Diaz. The key to this film’s success is in its two lead performers. Cruise has rarely been this fleeting and likeable as an action hero. His performance is a wonderful combination of the physical action prowess of Ethan Hunt and the freewheeling charismatic Jerry Maguire. Diaz doesn’t just play ditzy, as might have been the easy play for June. She plays smart and sometimes tough, although certainly frightened and naïve at the outset. Rules of realism might dictate that you ask why June would go along with Roy, who has already killed about 20 people before 15 minutes of screen time are gone. But with the killer smile, good looks and natural charisma of Cruise, how could she say no?

The truth is if you ask too many questions about the logical progression of the film, you’ll just give yourself a headache. Why does Simon have to meet Roy on a train through the Austrian Alps to give him the battery? Because it’s an excuse to have scenes filmed in Austria. Why is it a Spanish arms dealer who is interested in purchasing the battery? So that they could film in Andalusia, making wonderful use of the historic center of Seville for a car/motorcycle chase sequence at the end.

It’s hard to say why I’m so willing to forgive logical inconsistencies and a ridiculous plot here but not for other action films. I suppose it’s because it has the feel of a send up of the espionage thriller genre. The film and the actors never seem to be taking themselves too seriously. It’s almost exactly what you should want from a summer action film: good, fast-paced action; smart and funny script; charismatic actors who work well together on screen. Apart from that, the film is not asking for too much. And I don’t think we should be expecting much more. It’s a triumph of mediocrity, but among the vast sea of refuse at the cinemas, that should be taken as a steep compliment.

Note of interest: The photo above depicts Roy Miller and June Havens escaping the running of the bulls that takes place during the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona. In the film, this scene takes place in Seville, where no such festival exists, but was filmed in Cádiz. This is a small demonstration of Hollywood's contempt for American knowledge of European geography and customs.

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