It starts in an airport with bubbly June Havens (Cameron Diaz), on her way to her sister’s wedding, literally running into smooth-talking Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) — not once but twice, which makes it look like one of them is doing it on purpose, and it’s not June.
Roy helps her pick herself up and gather her luggage — twice — and then an odd thing happens: Roy boards the plane, and June, supposedly booked on the same flight, is told that her boarding pass is wrong and she’s not on that flight after all. “Sometimes things happen for a reason,” Roy tells her as he boards alone.
Meanwhile, in some intelligence command center, security footage of Roy colliding with June is being carefully reviewed, and it looks like he’s slipping a MacGuffin into and out of her luggage. Could they be in cahoots? The agents decide to keep the two of them together, and suddenly June is told that they’ve found her a seat after all. No wonder: The flight is nearly empty. After some flirtatious banter, June heads to the ladies’ room to freshen up and gather her nerve to put a move on Roy. What she doesn’t know is that every other passenger on the flight is an enemy agent gunning for Roy — and that Roy is a superspy, possibly rogue, capable of dealing with almost any number of assailants.
All this in the first ten minutes or so of Knight and Day. In broad strokes, not necessarily a bad set-up a frothy action-comedy-romance with echoes of movies from Mr. & Mrs. Smith and True Lies to Romancing the Stone and Charade. Credible star power, exotic locales, energetic set pieces and a tongue-in-cheek tone that never takes itself too seriously supply many of the right ingredients. Some of the action scenes have panache. I like June wearing a bridesmaid gown and boots in one car chase, and a scene with the running of the bulls in Seville gets points for creativity.
But consider the sloppiness of just the first ten minutes: Why was June booked in the first place on a flight with no other actual passengers — a flight that was only a trap for Roy? If it was an actual scheduled flight, where are the other passengers? How could the attendant get away with telling June that she wasn’t on the flight — wouldn’t her boarding pass list the gate and flight? Why does Roy get on a plane he knows is a trap? Why do enemy agents attack Roy physically in mid-flight? Why not just land him somewhere where he can be easily surrounded and captured?
Little things like plot holes and leaps in logic might not matter that much in a movie like this, if it’s working. Watching Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade is a lot of fun even if you’re not completely sure afterward exactly what happened. If True Lies works for you, it’s because Arnold and Jamie Lee Curtis sell its absurdities. If you find yourself nit-picking plot points and motivations, it’s a sign the movie isn’t working.
Part of the problem is Roy. Is he a dangerous, paranoid renegade agent, as federal authorities claim? Or is he the one person that June can trust in a world gone mad? The problem with the second theory is that he’s clearly at least a little cracked, and why are authorities eager to kill him? The problem with the first theory is that he’s played by Tom Cruise, and are we really supposed to believe that Cruise is playing the bad guy opposite Cameron Diaz in a movie like this?
Actually, Cruise is sort of the problem with both theories. He’s got star power, and his offbeat performance and action-hero physicality are entertaining, but his mega-wattage, as with many stars, comes in a limited spectrum. Cruise can play fairly smart, disciplined and super-focused, and he can play charming and charismatic, but he’s never lost that Top Gun frat-boy air of cocksure narcissism. It’s why he doesn’t come across as a 200-year-old vampire—and it’s why he doesn’t come across as the smartest guy in the room, the master manipulator gaming everyone and everything, which is what Roy would have to be regardless whether he’s hero or the villain. For smartest guy in the room, you don’t want Cruise, you want Damon.
Diaz also has star power, and brings girl-next-door charm to freaking out at being caught up in a world of assassins and action-movie set pieces. But the action is so pedal-to-the-metal, the characters don’t have time to breathe. In order to move more efficiently from one set piece to another, the film has Roy repeatedly drug June so that she can wake up after a lot of boring stuff has happened. Having June wake up on a tropical island in a bikini in which Roy has apparently dressed her while she was unconscious, and becoming inappropriately aroused during a firefight as a result of a truth serum dose (administered for once by the bad guys), is about as romantic as Knight and Day gets.
Another problem: Roy keeps killing people. Lots of people. He kills everyone on the plane, he kills an SUV or two full of federal agents in a freeway free-for-all, he kills a bunch of underworld commandos in a warehouse ambush, and so on. Of course, everyone he kills is trying to kill him. Well, except the underworld commandos, who apparently want to capture him alive, except for the part where they’re trying to kill him.
The “all in a day’s work” cheerfulness with which Roy chats up June as he racks up an ever-higher body count, meant to be funny, comes off as is off-putting, at least if he’s meant to be the good guy. In the freeway scene, having disabled the enemy vehicles, Roy comes to a stop in order to kill the survivors— even though he could have driven away. “You did very well,” he praises a traumatized June in a conversational tone as bullets ricochet around them. “I’m just going to go have a talk with those men and come right back. Actually, I’m going to go kill them.”
Why exactly are federal agents gunning for June? Roy warned June earlier that if feds started talking to her about taking her somewhere for “for her own safety,” until the situation was “secure,” that meant they were going to kill her and she should just run. Of course she doesn’t run, obliging Roy to come to her rescue.
If Roy is telling the truth, one of the agents is the real renegade who wants to steal the MacGuffin. But why go after June? By the next day they’ve surely got the intel on her to know she’s obviously nobody and represents no obvious threat. Wouldn’t killing her be counterproductive, even if they’re all bad? Are they all bad? Or is it mostly the one bad agent manipulating the others? Roy kills an awful lot of them. Does he know they’re all bad?
Knight and Day may benefit somewhat from comparisons to this month’s Killers, which I suppose isn’t saying much. The convergence of Knight and Day and Killers is one of those odd intersections of two similarly themed movies that often favors one film over the other. Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl, or Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz? Choose! I choose … Buzz Lightyear! “What?! That’s not a choice!” Maybe not, but with Toy Story 3 you also get Day & Night, a six-minute Pixar short with more creativity just in the poster art than Knight and Day has in its entire 110-minute running time.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.