Movie review by Greg Carlson
Junk food cinema desperate to channel the sparkling charm of Stanley Donen’s “Charade” and other comic spy capers, James Mangold’s “Knight and Day” spirals out of control in the first few minutes and never finds a pleasant equilibrium for its attractive stars. Working much harder than Cary Grant, Tom Cruise crafts a winking, self-conscious amalgam of his public persona and several of his relentlessly self-assured characters from Jerry Maguire to Ethan Hunt. Cameron Diaz, who worked with Cruise in “Vanilla Sky” for Cameron Crowe in 2001, holds her own against her co-star’s gift for overstatement.
Cruise is Roy Miller, a government operative whose discovery of internal perfidy places his own security at risk. Tagged as a rogue agent, Miller – like the classic Hitchcockian wrong man – is on the run from good guys and bad until he can figure out a way to prove his innocence. Genre convention demands a romantic interest, and Miller cute-meets June Havens (Diaz) when he uses her as a mule prior to an airport security screening. For no good reason other than a potent mutual attraction, Roy and June embark on a series of increasingly unbelievable escapades that sweep them from Wichita to Salzburg and points in between.
The MacGuffin in “Knight and Day” is a tiny, perpetual energy battery codenamed Zephyr, but Miller’s motives, loyalties, and mental stability are equally curious. Not unlike the slippery identity games of Peter Joshua/Alexander Dyle/Adam Canfield/Brian Cruikshank in “Charade,” “Knight and Day” flirts with the possibility that Miller may be on the make (or completely bananas), but the screenplay fails to effectively develop the “is he or isn’t he” motif following a snappy diner scene in which a completely deranged Miller takes June hostage, threatening “No one follows us or I kill myself and then her.”
Cameron Diaz’s June Havens may be more competent than Katherine Heigl’s Jen Kornfeldt in the similarly themed “Killers,” but she’s hardly an argument for Hollywood’s ability to effectively represent capable women. Despite her status as the character through which the audience experiences the action, Havens is often on the receiving end of her partner’s creepy, unhinged behavior. Roy drugs June more than once, kidnaps her to his private tropical getaway, undresses her without her consent, and orders her around the way a trainer speaks to a puppy. In return, June makes cow-eyes at Roy whenever she is not shrieking, hyperventilating or hysterically discharging an automatic weapon.
In Diaz’s defense, June learns the tricks of the espionage trade quickly, and by the end of the movie, her natural abilities allow her to approach the skill level of the hyper-trained Roy. Both Diaz and Cruise, framed frequently in almost unsettling close-up, flash their blinding pearly whites often enough to remind viewers why they collect ridiculous paychecks. Separately and together the pair unveil comic dexterity – Cruise freaks out explosively and Diaz is especially good in a woozy scene following her character’s encounter with truth serum. Had “Knight and Day” presented a more coherent story, it might have transcended its fate as warmed over “North by Northwest” and “To Catch a Thief.” Instead, neither June nor the viewer knows what to believe.
This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 6/28/10.