6.23.2010

REVIEW: Knight & Day (James Mangold, 2010)

Is James Mangold lost at cinematic sea? From here, this moment, I can but wonder what faltered from script to screen. Now, I've yet to exit a Mangold film without major qualms, but this one had copious potential. Could 20th Century Fox have shoved their meddling fingers too deep, or is the Cop Land director as in over his head as his latest protagonist? We follow June (Cameron Diaz), a vintage car enthusiast, as she is unwittingly drawn in to a caper flung far above her everyday endeavors. June's guide on this adventure is Roy (Tom Cruise), an impossibly cool super-spy apparently skating a line between nobility and greed. The duo ducks and dodges its way through an international gauntlet of agents and assassins, growing together from personalities that couldn't be more like night - or, in this case, knight - and day.

The concept, I imagine, is to toss viewers in the middle of an extraordinary, ambiguously purposed action-fest with little sense of bearings. June is our window to this world, her peripherals gorged on semi-automatic spray and flipping SUVs. In this sense we have less an ordinary action film and instead, more interestingly, a grounded film with occasionally sleek, outrageous action in its orbit. Enter Roy, and enter our first problem. Don't get me wrong, I find it near impossible to dislike Cruise even in his lesser outings and here he's a perfect send-up of his past roles. If Mission: Impossible III is homage to the likes of Maverick in Top Gun and Jerry Maguire in, well, Jerry Maguire, Knight & Day is parody of them. A respectable turn it is, particularly considering where many actors are terrified to be type-cast, this top talent doesn't hesitate to dive, grinning, into a tongue-in-cheek compilation of his former screen-selves. Herein, however, Cruise is overused. Our filmmakers can't seem to commit more than two consecutive scenes to the film's essential thrust. Roy comically hijacking a motorcycle off-screen and plummeting onto the hood of June's vehicle before confidently highway-surfing atop another as if it were child's play? Hilarious! Casually hinting his plans and whereabouts to June twixt her bouts of drug-induced unconsciousness? Perfect! Roy thieving center stage to provide explanation as to what, exactly, is going on? Shaky. The proceedings are best when their outlandish ingredients are relegated to aforementioned peripherals, creating ample room for targeted humor, at their worst when the same aspects are exploited. The folks behind the scenes may have done better to take a cue from that third Mission: Impossible installment and instead of worrying with reason on such exaggerated terrain, keeping the 'whats' and 'whys' of our high-octane hijinks cleverly under wraps.

Inconsistencies aside, we're dealing with material for what could have been an absolutely epic Cary Grant comedy about 6 decades ago. In many ways, Knight & Day seems to reach for Grant territory and actually does see some modicum of success in that reach. Perhaps the most admirable aspect is how well, even in that classic, screwball-like sense, Cruise and Diaz bounce off one another. The stars may not be complimented by blemished editing and tepid cinematography (as you try to keep your eyes from glazing during the convertible-set barrage of expository dialogue, watch for some of the most blatant and clumsy eye-lighting you're likely to come across), but they nevertheless prove a potent pairing with quick-paced, rhythmic reactions and ever-present physical chemistry rekindled from electricity generated on Vanilla Sky.

Knight & Day really isn't that bad. In fact, it's rather fun at times. While it's got makings of an original and worthy reason to plunk down theaters' skyrocketing ticket price, though, it uses convention as a crutch when in doubt, ultimately winding up more suited for rental fare. If anything, it teaches that when you need help evading heavily armed black marketeers with expensive sports cars, to whip out your iPhone because there's probably an app for that.

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