Friday, June 25, 2010

Knight and Day: Stormy

Knight and Day (2010) • View trailer for Knight and Day
Two stars (out of five). Rating: PG-13, for action violence and a hiccup of profanity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 6.25.10
Buy DVD: Knight and Day (Single-Disc Edition) • Buy Blu-Ray: Knight and Day (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (+ Digital Copy)

Movies like Knight and Day make me tired.

They also make me long for the days of quality romantic espionage thrillers such as The 39 Steps, North by Northwest, Three Days of the Condor, Enigma and my all-time favorite, Charade: films written by people who understood the value of well-crafted characters and tightly plotted narratives.
Roy (Tom Cruise) and June (Cameron Diaz) prepare for another ludicrous
escape, as they elect to flee assassins and charging bulls on the streets of
Seville, Spain, while burning rubber on what this flick's press notes describe
as a "hot-red, super-nimble Ducati Hypermotard S." Beware of films that spend
more time on upscale product placement than plot logic...

As opposed to the big-screen debut of so-called writer Patrick O'Neill, whose screenplay for Knight and Day is no more than a disconnected string of meet-cute one-liners separated by lots of flying bullets and the destruction of considerable personal property. I'm frankly surprised that Tom Cruise would have been lured into such a numb-nuts project; his taste generally is better.

Granted, the second and third Mission: Impossible entries have their cartoonish qualities, but at least they make sense within their own stylistic exaggerations. Knight and Day is little more than a big-budget "idiot story": so named because each and every character behaves like a total idiot at all times.

Heck, I can't even explain the title. The "knight" has dual references, most notably the little toy figure that Cruise's Roy Miller uses to conceal the super-secret scientific prize that everybody wants in this deranged mess of a movie. But "Day" doesn't relate to anything beyond the apparent attempt to concoct a cute play on words.

And yes, this perfectly typifies the sort of thought - or absence thereof - that went into writing the entire film.

Consider: The high-tech gizmo that fuels an endless series of chases and confrontations is a new-fangled battery that never runs down ... not ever. Only one prototype exists, and Roy keeps it close. Capturing or killing Roy therefore might be reasonable options for his various pursuers, but how are we to explain several attempts to blow him up?

Hey, gang: Blow up Roy, blow up the battery. Game over.

Yep, as a writer, O'Neill is quite the deep thinker.

Mostly, though, it appears as though director James Mangold was ordered to out-pizzazz Matt Damon's three frenetic Bourne films, while deep-sixing even their limited emotional resonance. The result completely wastes the big-screen charm of Cruise and co-star Cameron Diaz. We never get to know their characters, at least not as credible human beings; they're no more than cardboard cut-outs blown about by a series of increasingly improbable stunt sequences.

This is quite a comedown for Mangold, whose previous film  2007's riveting remake of 3:10 to Yuma  got its tension-building heft from the sort of flawed, complex characters and thoroughly credible narrative utterly absent here. Knight and Day really didn't need a director as much as a traffic cop ... not to mention a producer with the good sense to have fired O'Neill and assigned a re-write to somebody who understood the significance of dramatic structure.

The plot, such as it is:

June Havens (Diaz), wanting only to make a connecting flight in order to participate at her sister's pending wedding, bumps into Roy just before being told that, sorry, she's too late to board. Ah, but clandestine intervention from Those With The Power To Change Such Things gets June on the plane after all ... much to Roy's suspicious, raised-eyebrow bewilderment.

Funny thing about that flight: It's practically empty ... just Roy, June and about a dozen other people. Cue the first pell-mell action sequence, once the plane is airborne, as Roy and everybody else on board  yep, they're all dirty, except for June  beat on each other and exchange plenty of gunfire.

I guess nobody's terribly worried that a stray bullet might depressurize the cabin. Didn't these clowns ever see Goldfinger or any number of other movies?

All this furious activity takes place while June's in the lavatory, talking herself into making a pass at Roy; while returning to her seat, she simply assumes that all the other passengers have fallen asleep. (I guess this qualifies as the 'comedy' in what 20th Century Fox has elected to bill as an "action comedy.")

June loses a bit of her sang-froid after realizing that the pilot and co-pilot are among the dead  yes, she eventually realizes that everybody else is deceased as well  and that Roy will have to land the plane himself. In an Indiana cornfield. Within a surprising short space, as it happens: our first indication that O'Neill, in addition to being a crappy writer, lacks any understanding of momentum and various other natural laws of physics.

Then poor June suffers the ultimate indignity, when Roy drugs her into oblivion, in an effort to spare her additional horrors. This actually happens several times during the course of this film; no doubt Mangold and O'Neill regard June's frequent unconsciousness as a clever running gag. I call it a way to side-step dozens of questions relating to plot and motivation.

I mean, think of it: Because of these numerous narrative lapses, we're not even given an entire movie ... just stray bits and pieces!

Too bad June couldn't have been drugged throughout the entire escapade; then we wouldn't have had a movie to suffer through.

Anyway, of course June quickly is re-united with Roy, eventually learning all about the new-tech battery; and the barely post-adolescent inventor (Paul Dano, as Simon Fleck) who developed it; and the CIA director (Viola Davis, utterly wasted) and field agent (Peter Sarsgaard, also under-utilized) who insist that Roy has become an untrustworthy rogue; and the nasty Spanish arms dealer who also wants the gizmo.

Subsequent skirmishes take place on or in trains, cars and motorcycles  Cruise does love showing off on hogs  and even during the running of the bulls in the streets of Seville, Spain. (Don't ask.) The round-the-world locales include numerous countries and even a mid-ocean island hideaway, the latter sequence apparently taking place solely so Diaz can be poured into a tiny red bikini.

The story's minimal suspense emanates from The Big Question: Has Roy gone rogue, as Fitzgerald claims? Or is Roy telling the truth when he repeatedly insists that he's the only good guy, while all the other dozens and dozens of pursuers are evil or misinformed?

They're also lousy shots. Either that, or Fleck has cloaked Roy with an invisible, bullet-deflecting force field that the script never gets around to explaining.

Finally, long after credibility has been stretched far past the breaking point  as we've been forced to swallow absurd coincidence, Roy's superhuman fighting skills and numerous ludicrous plot contrivances  we're force-fed one last incident that's utterly beyond the pale:

June falls in love with Roy.

No real surprise there  the film pretty much demands as much  but we can't help raising an eyebrow over the criteria this woman uses, when selecting date prospects. I guess June gets that erotic glow from guys who dope her, dump her and repeatedly put her in harm's way.

Needless to say, neither Cruise's killer grin nor Diaz's trademark crinkly eye twinkle can sell that load of Hollywood manure.

This hasn't been a good month for romantic action comedies. Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl couldn't save Killers from being dead on arrival, and this one isn't any better; it'll do some first-weekend business thanks to Cruise's acolytes, and then tank quickly.

And very, very, very deservedly.

Knight and Day is stupid, noisy Hollywood product at its most blatantly soulless: an insult to viewer intelligence that deserves to precipitate a ground-swell revolt by patrons fed up with wasting their hard-earned dollars on paint-by-numbers junk, made by lazy filmmakers who clearly have nothing but contempt for their audiences.

And here I thought only Eddie Murphy and Will Ferrell abused their fans this atrociously.

Not good company to be keeping, Tom...

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