Most of the time, saying that a film has a little something for everybody is just a load of hooey, but when it comes to James Mangold's new feature Knight and Day, that wouldn't be too far wrong. There's action, comedy, romance, and even a couple of fleeting moments of real pathos. The film has a lot to like, and the components are mixed together in just the right way that it's not hard to like all of it.
Cameron Diaz stars in the film as June Havens, a tomboy who restores vintage cars and has been known to fly across the country to get the right auto part. On her way home from one such trip, she bumps into Roy Miller (Tom Cruise), an impeccably handsome, polite, and cryptic fellow flyer of the friendly skies. The pair have instant chemistry, and a hook-up would be all but inevitable were it not for the fact that everyone else on the plane is an assassin targeting Roy--including the pilots. What isn't immediately obvious about our man Miller is that he's a secret agent who is currently on the outs with his bosses because when he tried to stop one of his fellow agents (Peter Sarsgaard) from stealing a new ultra-secret power source, the script got flipped on him and now he's suspected of being the traitor.
Or, at least, that's what Roy says. He also seems a little crazy, and every time he drops into June's life--sometimes quite literally--people with guns start showing up and pretty soon there are dead bodies everywhere. Roy takes June on a crazed trip around the world, claiming it's for her own good, keeping her under his protection while he searches for the creator of this new battery, a tripped-out boy genius named Simon (Paul Dano). But can June really trust him, or is she making a big mistake losing herself in Roy's crazy eyes? And can Roy resist diving into her ultra blue ones?
Knight and Day is a surprisingly entertaining cross-genre romp. It was written as a spec script by Patrick O'Neill and allegedly rewritten by multiple script doctors, and it was directed by James Mangold, best known for more serious films like 3:10 to Yuma and Walk the Line. Once Tom Cruise's name got lodged above the title, one could have been forgiven for expecting Knight and Day to be a safe, by-the-numbers studio picture market researched into utter pabulum. Even the puntastic and relatively meaningless title screams of creative bankruptcy. Not so! Instead, what we get is a movie that fires scattershot at a variety of different things and ends up hitting all targets. It's funny, thrilling, and even lovey-dovey. Knight and Day is like a romantic comedy version of a Jason Bourne movie, Charade meets Midnight Run, and it's a full-on good time.
Cruise and Diaz are perfectly cast as the couple on the run, and there are genuine sparks between them. Diaz is plucky and funny and despite always being several steps behind the super spy, she is shown as more than capable of handling herself in a stressful situation. Yes, the girl is allowed to kick a little ass in this boy's playground! The actress hasn't been this much fun to watch since the Charlie's Angels movies, and this reminds me why she was my favorite Angel. For his part, Cruise crafts a character that is cocksure without being too cocky, and he applies every ounce of his star-studded charisma, he doesn't just skate by on his famous grin. Particularly in the early parts of the movie, where the character comes off as some kind of deranged stalker--in a few scenes, it's like Diaz is in a bizarre horror movie--Cruise is insanely funny. Surely the actor was aware of how much this mirrored his own cuckoo reputation, and he decided to play around with it. Roy Miller is Tom Cruise parodying the tabloid construct of himself.
There are a lot of ways that Knight and Day could have veered off course. The humor could have been too dark, the violence could have been too vicious, Diaz's character too ditzy, Cruise's too self-involved--Mangold somehow stays on the right side of all of it. The movie has a huge body count, but it's never gory. The stunts are also shot clearly and edited at a good pace. No shaky cam, no superfast cuts, these are action sequences you can actually see and get involved in. Some of them are quite clever, too, and even though the fighting occasionally gets cartoony, special effects falter, and a few plot points strain credibility, Mangold maintains an interior logic that allows those of us in the audience to keep buying into the goings-on without having to hate ourselves for suspending our disbelief. Sure, the pacing grows soggy from time to time, but stick it out, Knight and Day always rebounds. The script even takes some fun turns in the final act so that it all comes together less predictably than you might think.
I doubt that Knight and Day will win any awards, and I'm positive it won't make it on my list of best films of the year. Doesn't matter, though. For 100 minutes, I was thoroughly entertained. This is popcorn filmmaking through and through, and I kept reaching back in the bucket for more.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.