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Knight and Day

Director: James Mangold
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano

(US DVD: 30 Nov 2010)

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat – if you don’t like Tom Cruise, you will not enjoy Knight and Day. The film is Tom Cruise from top to bottom. It’s a generic action picture form-fitted for its amiable, slightly manic star (less frenzied than when he was younger, but still a bit over-excited).  We’ve all seen it before, but it’s what Slate critic Dana Stevens refers to as the “Tom Cruise-ness” of the film that sets it apart from its predecessors. So if you didn’t like him in his ‘90s prime, it’s unlikely your mind will change after a slight tweaking for the new millennium.


There are still plenty of people out there who love the opinionated megastar, not for his thoughts off screen perhaps, but for his actions on it. If you’re one of those people who tells everyone how outraged you are by Cruise’s personal delusions and outlandish comments but still secretly watches Top Gun and Jerry Maguire every time they’re on TV, then Knight and Day is right up your alley. Cruise runs, jumps, and fights just as well as his past self. He even smiles, charms, and kisses the same. Well, sort of.


Knight and Day follows our hero Roy Miller (Cruise), a super secret agent on the lamb after being accused of betraying a scientist under his protection for a big cash payout. Of course he didn’t do it, and the film makes no attempt to hide this fact. Instead it chooses to keep us in full (if somewhat vague) support of Miller and his pseudo-hostage June Havens (Cameron Diaz). The duo first bumps into each other (literally) at the airport. Roy uses June to sneak the “zephyr”, a macguffin with a definition, past security without telling her. She ends up on his flight, some polite flirting occurs, and then Roy’s true nature is revealed.


Well, at least part of it rises to the surface as a few tropes make their first appearance. Roy kills some bad guys. June freaks out. Roy charms June into helping him. June proves more trouble than she’s worth. Roy drugs June and escapes capture. The conventions employed by screenwriter Patrick O’Neill are well worn: Man saves woman. Again. And again. And again. Sure, the 21st century twist comes into play, when June finally pulls her weight, but the rest is cliché after cliché. Heck, by 2010 even the female lead making a “surprise” rebound to help save the day is a cliché.


Nevertheless, Knight and Day is not without its charms, a big one being Cruise himself. Though it’s been said a hundred times before, it may bear repeating one more time: think what you want of his personal life, Tom Cruise has as much screen presence as anyone and more than most. Yes, he’s more movie star than thespian, but he can be both when necessary. This is not one of those times. All charisma and smiles, Cruise is working in overdrive trying to make up for lost time and make it up to lost fans. In the end, though, his wholesome, well-rounded appeal proves to be just as much of a shortcoming as an advantage.


Roy has no edge to him. There’s nothing that makes his character unique. Yes, his generalities make his character more easily identifiable to a wide variety of people (thus pleasing the film’s producers), but they also doom him to mediocrity (thus boring the film’s audience). His only desire is to live life to the fullest before it’s too late. He doesn’t specifically say he wants to settle down and have a family, but he might as well. Gee, has there ever been a movie about a spy who yearns for the simple life after too many years undercover? The American, starring another megastar and released only a few months after Knight and Day, revolves around the same concept, but has the balls to fully develop the story surrounding its hero’s desires. Roy is more like a light-hearted Jason Bourne who knows who he is and where he’s been. Where’s the fun in that?


Diaz is equally stereotypical, but her character’s wants are usually relegated to living through a shootout. I guess we’re just supposed to expect her to want a “normal” life with a husband and kids despite her quirky, and conveniently butch, job as a classic car restorer. I guess director James Mangold expects us to expect a lot in Knight and Day. The action scenes make it ludicrous for anyone to survive, but we never expect our heroes to fail. The romance between Roy and June is basically nonexistent, but we’re expected to believe June would risk life and limb for her death-defying non-boyfriend. That’s a lot of guessing and a lot of expecting for a movie as simple as this.


The actors and filmmakers keep things simple in the behind the scenes documentary Wilder Knights and Crazier Days. Tom and Cameron talk about how the movie is just supposed to be fun before going into how much fun they had making it. In fact, if you’re looking for a quick drinking game before going out on town, take a drink every time someone says the word “fun” in the 12-minute doc. I promise you’ll be in high spirits by the time it’s over. Though short, the video provides a ton of great shots chronicling how they did some of the stunts in the film and it’s still impressive to see Cruise doing his own stunts.


Tom again pops up in a nine-minute feature with the Black Eyed Peas about the band’s original song “Someday” during the film’s end credits. There are also a few viral videos included on the single disc edition, but most fans have already seen these online.  Still, the producers obviously knew what viewers wanted and gave us lots and lots of Mr. Cruise.

Even though it’s a little half-baked, Cruise’s latest still adds up to enough fun for some. Even an average Tom Cruise movie is better than a non-Tom Cruise movie for his fans.  I should know.  Still, as a defender of Katie Holmes, I wish the three-time Academy Award nominee would get back to taking nomination-worthy turns. Instead of moving backward and reminding the world why we liked him in the first place, why not turn a new leaf and finally win that coveted Oscar?  Scale down a bit and do some work in the independent film world. He was on the right path with his hysterically funny role in Tropic Thunder, a one-eyed performance in Valkyrie, and a somewhat stoic part in Lions For Lambs (as opposed to the classic off-the-wall characters of his past).  So don’t simply update your image after 2010, Tom. Revamp it. And make some better movies in the process – or at least some original ones.

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Ben Travers is an awards season analyst and prognosticator with a devout interest in all things film & TV. Mr. Travers lives in Los Angeles as an experienced writer and filmmaker with an extensive portfolio of coverage, including thorough reporting on the Academy Awards, weekly box office reports, and more reviews written than will ever be read. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa with degrees in both journalism and cinema.


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