Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Review: "Knight and Day"
What a fun, fun ride "Knight and Day" is. Yes, it's totally a summer popcorn movie, empty cinematic calories forgotten almost as soon as they're consumed. But Tom Cruise reminds us why we used to like Tom Cruise so much -- before the couch-jumping and the creepy interviews and all the other stuff that gave his star a sour taint.
This new action-comedy features Cruise doing the stuff he was born to do on the big screen: Seeming larger than life, dangerous but charming, flashing that Klieg light smile and making a girl's eyes positively twinkle at his attentions.
The girl in question is Cameron Diaz, whose own career has seemed on autopilot lately. She plays June Havens, a sweet gal from Boston who restores old cars for a living. June is traveling through the Kansas City airport with a suitcase full of carburetors and other parts, which makes her a perfect target for Roy Miller, the mystery man of the hour.
(By the way, I'd like to believe that a woman who looks like Diaz could be a mechanic, but I just didn't buy it. First of all, her hands are too smooth and clean to have had them inside the guts of a Pontiac on a daily basis. Ever looked at a mechanic's hands? They look like gorilla mitts. And who flies across the country to pick up car parts when UPS will ship them for a fraction of the cost?)
It turns out Roy and June are on the same flight back to Beantown. When it appears she'll be bumped from the flight, he comments that maybe some things are for the best. Then she gets on at the last minute, and he seems kind of disappointed. They talk, flirt some, and when she decamps to the lavatory to freshen up, Roy kills everybody on the plane, including the pilots.
Turns out Roy's a super-agent gone rogue -- or at least that's what the authorities tell June when she wakes up the next day back at home. Roy landed the plane safely (well, they both survived) and then promptly drugged her.
The rest of the movie is a nearly non-stop game of chase-chase, kiss-kiss. It seems Roy is in possession of a new kind of battery that can run an entire city, forever -- "the first source of perpetual energy since the sun." Various parties, including a Spanish arms dealer and the U.S. government, want it for themselves.
The battery is a classic MacGuffin -- an object that is critical to the plot despite remaining a total mystery. How the battery was built or how it works are unimportant (it sort of resembles an old camera film roll, before everything went digital) except to say that everyone wants to get their hands on it.
Rookie screenwriter Patrick O'Neill obviously understands about MacGuffins, and treats it as such. His clever script plays with the conventions of the action/thriller genre, throwing winking nods to the audience -- especially in the playful banter between Cruise and Diaz, who manage to invest their characters with a little soul in between the many car chases and gun battles.
Director James Mangold, not exactly known for lighter fare ("Walk the Line," "3:10 to Yuma"), does a nice job of keeping things in happy-time mode. His action scenes are crisp and stupendous without seeming totally implausible.
I admired how Mangold and O'Neill treat theirs stars like stars, but still invest the minor characters with distinctive presences. Paul Dano has a deer-like innocent quality as the brilliant young inventor of the battery, and Peter Sarsgaard sneers admirably as the heavy. Marc Blucas has a tiny but hilarious turn as June's doofy-but-decent ex.
But mostly, "Knight and Day" will be seen as Tom Cruise's comeback role -- though I doubt he'd acknowledge he went anywhere. He'll turn 48 a couple of weeks after this movie comes out, but if he wasn't Tom Cruise, just a guy on the street, I think most people would peg him at about 32.
Based on this flick, his career is certainly looking fresh again.
3 stars out of four