Saturday, August 07, 2010

Review - Knight and Day

My mind has a tendency to wander when the film I'm watching isn't sufficiently engaging, and as I sat in front of Knight and Day, my thoughts kept drifting back to the title. Knight and Day – what does that even mean? Before the film, I had assumed that these might be the surnames of the lead characters played by Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, but they're actually called Roy Miller and June Havens. Wait a minute, it turns out I was half right, as Roy's real name is revealed to be Knight halfway through the film, and then there's that whole business about hiding the MacGuffin everyone's after in a toy knight, but that still doesn't explain the Day bit...oh, I suppose it's really not worth thinking about. Still, at least I had something to ponder as this increasingly tedious movie went about its business.

I guess Knight and Day isn't an awful film by the standards of the usual mainstream summer movie, but it's so painfully average in every department. It wants to be both an explosive action blockbuster and a screwball comic romance, but the sheer desperation of all involved, as they strain to please the mass audience, practically drips off the screen. Unsurprisingly, the film is a conflicted mess that is neither exciting enough or funny enough to succeed in any of the genres it strays into, and after the first hour has elapsed, the endless superficiality and senselessness of the whole production becomes exhausting.

Most frustratingly, this is a project that had some potential, and the first 15 minutes or so are intriguing and occasionally funny. Cruise's Roy and Diaz's June meet-cute at an airport before trading some flirtatious banter on the flight, and when she excuses herself to freshen up, he quickly despatches the agents on board that have been sent to kill him. It turns out he's a spy who has gone rogue to protect a young scientist (Paul Dano) from the traitorous FBI man (Peter Sarsgaard with an unnecessary accent) who wants to sell his invention to a notorious arms dealer. At least, that's his story, but the agency's claims that Cruise is a loose cannon who has lost the plot may be true for all June knows. Either way, she's now mixed up in whatever plot he's involved in, and despite her efforts to extricate herself from this adventure, she ends up following Roy from Boston to South America, via Austria, Spain and a remote tropical island.

However, it doesn't matter where they go because Roy and June just end up getting involved in another chase sequence and/or fight at every stop. James Mangold's direction is competent enough, but it lacks the liveliness and invention needed to give these action set-pieces a distinctive edge. Instead, we just watch as the seemingly invulnerable Roy wipes out dozens of assailants while June screams and flaps her arms and accidentally takes out the odd assassin herself. When they find themselves in a particularly tight spot, the scene sometimes ends with Roy drugging June, before she wakes up in an entirely new location, with no idea of how they managed to get there. Mangold uses these ellipses to move his story forward, but they end up leaving huge gaps in the narrative, giving the film a disjointed, slapdash structure that actually disrupts the momentum. Knight and Day feels hastily thrown together, a sense that's exacerbated by the shoddy effects work noticeable in a number of sequences, and it's clear that the filmmakers are banking heavily on the picture's star power being enough for audiences to overlook its flaws.

The gamble doesn't come off. Roy Miller is actually a good fit for Cruise and he brings his customary full-on intensity to the role, giving the character a slightly manic air that is clearly intended as a nod to his public persona. It's a decent performance, but he only has a single note to play for the whole movie. Diaz has her amusing moments as June (the truth serum scene being a highlight), but her performance is generally as strained as much of her recent work has been – where is the light radiance that made her such a star in the 90's? Ultimately, the terminal blow for the film is the complete lack of spark between its two stars. No matter how often they flash their blindingly white teeth at each other, we never believe in these characters or their relationship, and so Knight and Day just plays out as another empty mainstream dud; a film that has money to burn but hasn't taken the time to put in place the basic building blocks of a solid picture. In the right hands, Knight and Day could have worked, but it would have required a complete overhaul of personnel, scale and focus. They should have started with the title.