"You don't seem very happy to see me, Roy", June Havens (Cameron Diaz) whisper-yells to dashing Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) from across a sun-drenched, tile-studded pavilion, gunshots ricocheting left and right around them. In the middle of this firefight, Roy stops, takes his sunglasses off in a cavalier David Caruso fashion, walks clear across the path of fire without so much as a graze and looks her dead in the eyes while saying, "I am happy". That's James Mangold's Knight and Day, a bombastic yet ruthlessly doltish action-comedy-romance hybrid that unflinchingly turns its shoulder from practicality. It exists in that magical space where heroes aren't hit by bullets unless the film needs a beat and where flipping airborne cars come millimeters from knocking someone's head off, all for stabs at excitement. That world can be a fun vacation spot, but not with this rickety itinerary or with Diaz as the tour guide. At least Tom Cruise attempts a tried-and-true effort to make it exciting, though.
Cruise plays Roy, the quintessential dashing superspy that'd make Ethan Hunt look like a pansy, who happens to bump into classic car restoration guru June at the airport -- a fabricated meet-cute. After they end up on the same flight together and share a few sparks, and Roy takes out an entire jet full of counter-spies, she ends up irrevocably linked to him. June soon learns, though, that Roy's hunted by the American government in connection with his link to the Zephyr, a portable device that could change the face of the world (I know, I know). It takes a little convincing on Roy's part to keep her around, ensuring that she'll be killed if she leaves his side, but she shakily follows him on a high-paced trek that skips the pair haphazardly from Wichita, Kansas to an off-the-grid island paradise and then to the expanses of Austria and Spain within just a few days. But the CIA, led by spearhead Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard), are close behind, as are others interested in the device Roy's carrying.
Similarly to True Lies and Charade, Knight and Day cooks up a bouillabaisse of flippant humor and fast-paced action, brought to a simmer by the timid chemistry between a roguish uber-spy and his mousy, virginal companion, who's actually the story's focus. In theory, Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise could easily play up this angle by tapping into their mostly-successful contrasting dynamic from Vanilla Sky. Problem is, however, that this product-and-star-friendly script reeks of either formula or hackneyed spins on the formula, splicing in cringe-worthy lines, ludicrous plot movement, and strenuous death-defying within the not-so-charming absurdity. Some will argue that surrendering to its capriciousness is the ante one pays to indulge in an adrenaline-fueled popcorn experience, but director Mangold doesn't make that process very easy when this template-assembled action film ignores common sense to such a high-handed and persistent degree.
As the mundanely-shot Knight and Day lavishly explodes, revs, and jets across the world, often occurring in erratic (drug-induced) gaps in time off-screen, Mangold has to rely on Cruise and Diaz's charms individually to drive the picture. Cruise is up to the task, but in a different fashion than expected; instead of his brash, overly twitch persona with lots of abrasive verbal lashings, he commands Roy Miller as a collected and suavely-physical spy. And, when he's delivering the lines in such a cool manner, his underappreciated comedic delivery really shines. Cameron Diaz, on the other hand, drags him down and shows a lack of ability to captivate her audience, coming across as uninterestingly na´ve and bird-brained as poor decision-maker June (really, June, stay where you are). It's interesting to watch the two back-and-forth, because the same level of misfired quality can be seen in their parts -- and Cruise makes lemonade, while Diaz sours early on.
Sure, Knight and Day captures plenty of boisterous action in exotic and appealing locales, pumping a level of octane into Roy's scramble from the authorities and globe-stretching villains, and it's made mildly intriguing on a mental level by Cruise's witty depiction of an unpredictable rogue agent with undefined motives. Can you kick back and let him lug the tongue-and-cheek flow through zipping motorcycles, a rooftop chase a la To Catch a Thief, and train-laden brawls? Perhaps, but its defiance in the face of logic becomes more and more infuriating as time progresses, revealing a lack of polish that the likes of this year's Salt had shimmering on its unbelievable surface. Some might see Mangold's summertime film as a piece of work that doesn't take itself too seriously, a frivolous little firecracker that pops and sparks for simple amusement, but all these eyes see is bold, inane tomfoolery that doesn't make one all that happy to see it.
Video and Audio:
Knight and Day's somewhat bland but otherwise lush-looking photography arrives from Fox in a 2.35:1 widescreen-enhanced transfer that jets along with the picture's active visual rhythm. Explosions, car wrecks, bullets flying, waves crashing, zipline-scooting bad guys and all other imaginable action-film trappings cram into James Mangold's picture, which this standard-definition image maintains with exceptional clarity and robust, stylish colors. Skin tones remain flush and very well-tempered, though a bit punchy in the reddish-pink department at times, while the off-and-on inky contrast maintains a proper depth -- even if the black levels lean grayish-blue on a few occasions. Impressively, this standard-definition image also retains a deft level of dimensionality in both the active scenes and the slow-tempo character points, offering nice instances of depth-of-field amid several of the visually arresting set pieces.
Audio thunders along with an equally strong Dolby Digital 5.1 track, which matches the aptly-handled visual explosions, fast-paced car chases, and other action-driven scenes with force. An array of gunshots ride the mid- to low-range bass level with plenty of punch and nerve-rattling clarity, while waves crashing against the shore of Roy's island splash with natural clarity. The sounds rumbling and shaking on the Austrian train sequence fill the space rather well. Verbal clarity remains well-attuned and audible, while the ebbs-and-flows in the music meander along with the flying bullets and crashing cars with commendable balance. Spanish and French language tracks also adorn the disc, with English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Wilder Knights and Crazier Days (12:30, 16x9):
follows that ever-so-familiar assembly rhythm as the cast and crew split off to discuss this "wonderful, fun adventure", as Cruise describes it. As usual for these types of pieces, the behind-the-scenes footage ends up being a more compelling experience than watching the expository interviews. It's no surprise that stunt coordinator Gregg Smrz is first up to bat, since there's so much action that takes place in the film, but everybody on board -- Mangold, Cruise, Diaz, Sarsgaard and the rest -- gets in to throw a few quips around about the production. They ratchet through all the big sequences, from how they orchestrated the plane battle in a cramped fabricated stage to the grueling moments in the Austrian train and catwalk sequences, and it appears as if they legitimately had a lot of fun constructing the film.
A few other odds-'n-ends round out the disc, such as the overlong Knight and 'Someday' (9:09, 16x9) bit that chronicles the evening when Cruise -- along with a rather attractive-looking Katie Holmes! -- hooks up with the Black Eyed Peas in "the Underground" during a concert performance to discuss Knight and Day (briefly, though, since it's mostly just footage of the concert), a few Viral Videos (1:08, 1:21; 16x9) that include the funny Diaz-Cruise sparring video that made the rounds earlier this year, and a decent Theatrical Trailer (2:26, 16x9).
As an unabashed Tom Cruise apologist, as well as a fond appreciator of situation spy-comedy action films in the hands of Stanley Donen and James Cameron, it was a shame to see Knight and Day not work in the ways I had hoped. Instead, the picture's only worth a Rental for, well, the Cruise-driven charisma, a few forced chuckles, and a handful of elaborately-orchestrated, check-your-brain-at-the-door set pieces throttling through lavish locales. But ultimately, this one's a disappointment, a dud of an action-comedy that lacks the common sense it needs to stray from being too absurd for its own good.