Knight & Day Makes No Sense, or, Why Scripts Matter

I close on my first home next week. STRESS. All I want is to move into my new place but there is some work to be done first. Am trying to figure out how to squeeze it all into a couple of Saturdays so I can just move already. I hate moving. It’s so much work and effort, and I hate exerting myself. I always wanted to be Samantha in Bewitched so I could just twitch my nose and have my shit taken care of instantly. With the stress levels through the roof right now, I sought out my favorite form of escapism over the weekend. I went to the movies. Did I see Toy Story 3? No. For the second week in a row I went to see something I knew would be inferior (latent masochistic streak?). I saw Tom Cruise’s career Hail Mary Knight & Day.

First, let me say this is not a terrible movie. It isn’t great, but it isn’t horrible, which by and large has been the story of Summer 2010 at the movies. Not great, not awful. That said, I did not like this movie. Not because it was cheesy or because Tom Cruise is a total dork, but because everything about Knight & Day was from the Easy Way Handbook. It’s one thing for a bad movie to be bad because everything about it sucks, like Jonah Hex, which leaves you feeling like, “Well clearly this was just a bad idea” after the movie is over. It bugs me to no end when a movie has the potential to be legitimately good and instead takes the Easy Way Out and ends up merely mediocre. Knight & Day took its Movie Star pedigree for granted and did nothing to actually be a good movie, instead landing in the “merely mediocre” pile.

Things start out okay with Knight & Day. Stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz have great chemistry, and they look like they had a lot of fun working together again. Cruise is discovering a latent and surprisingly enjoyable comic ability (except as Les Grossman—that bit is old), and nobody does ditzy as well as Diaz. The premise of Knight & Day isn’t too terrible, either: A superspy who maybe is burned out, or maybe is being set up, essentially kidnaps a regular woman and takes her on his superspy adventure around the world. Okay, I’m down with that. Perfect plot for summer fluff. And the casting was solid—Peter Sarsgaard (An Education), Viola Davis (fresh off her Tony win for Fences), and Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) costar. See what I mean? These are good ingredients. But then it goes off the rails.

What was wrong with Knight & Day? Let’s start with that title. It has no bearing on anything. A better one would be Good Knight, as cheesy as that is it at least ties into the theme of the movie. But Knight & Day? Means nothing. As for that cast—Dano and Davis are completely wasted. Maybe somewhere there exists a draft of the script in which their characters contribute meaningfully to the film, but to spend the money on actors of that quality and then have them do so little—it’s wasteful. And at this point, if Sarsgaard shows up in a movie playing some type of law enforcement officer, I know straightaway he’s the bad guy.

As for Cruise and Diaz, well, it’s a wash. The chemistry is there and the combined energy from their megawatt smiles is enough to power a small city indefinitely, but the story is so weak they just don’t have enough to do. Cruise acts crazy, Diaz acts ditzy, and we all go home. I don’t think either of them are the greatest actors ever, but they are certainly better than that. But everything was so predictable, it was such paint-by-numbers filmmaking—extremely disappointing given this movie was directed by James Mangold of Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma fame—that at no point was I engaged with these characters. From the very first scene I knew exactly how the story would play out. Roy (Cruise) accidentally-on-purpose bumps into June (Diaz) at the airport. June later bumps into Roy. They will fall in love. Roy and June are on the same flight with only six other passengers, all shifty looking men. Roy will beat them up. The plane crashes and Roy saves June, then warns her against the government. Roy is on the lam. Roy kidnaps June but then June decides Roy is safer than the government agents sent to protect her. They will reveal the cover up. Roy shows June a self-defense move. June will beat the shit out of a bad guy. The whole movie is like that. For each action, you know the result long before it occurs. At the point that June describes her road trip pipedream, I literally knew the EXACT ending of the movie. It’s like a plug and play script or something. Insert cliché, get result.

Finally, Knight & Day committed the greatest sin possible in film. It harkened back to a beloved classic and then shat all over that classic’s memory. Throughout the movie I was strongly reminded of Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, the 1955 whodunit spy thriller with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. And not in a bad way! Knight & Day, had it abandoned its predictability and inherent laziness, could have been a neat update of To Catch a Thief. You have the attractive lead couple, the jet-set locales, the spy story—it was all there. But it was wasted. Where To Catch a Thief used the French Riviera and Monaco to create a glamorous world we want to be part of, Knight & Day didn’t spend enough time in any one of its Fabulous Locales for us to fall in love with any of them. It was like taking a Fodor’s Guide trip through Europe. And the story was too predictable and the characters too thin for an audience to really care about what becomes of Roy and June. From the first frame you know what will happen to them, where in To Catch a Thief you really wonder if Robie (Grant) is going to pull it off and have his happily ever after with Frances (Kelly). But in Knight & Day this is never in question. You know Roy will succeed because he is played by Tom Cruise and Tom Cruise never fails. Except for recently at the box office. With a budget of $117 million and opening-weekend box office of just $20 million, Knight & Day was not the triumphant return for which Cruise was hoping.

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4 thoughts on “Knight & Day Makes No Sense, or, Why Scripts Matter

  1. Maxi

    Just watched this movie. I am alright with the plot, cliche or not but it was watching Diaz and Cruise did give me a deja vu/tired/underwhelmed feeling – felt like they were reprising familair roles? There was a good moment that I like very much – reversing the guardian role at the end of movie – “with me, without me” – that was funny.

  2. Agreed, but
    ONLY “To Catch a Thief”?
    The WHOLE thing had me going like: “OMG HITCHCOCK RIP-OFF, HITCHCOCK RIP-OFF!” The plane that’s flies toward them from the background is the classic scene from “North and Northwest”, as is the lenghty seemingly-harmless-flirting airplane conversation that introduces the characters (in NXNW it’s set in a train.) The scene where Tom Cruise jumps through rooftops is shot exactly like the rooftop scene one in “Vertigo”. The Pamplona bull run is equivalent to the carnival in “Strangers on a Train.”

    http://hallucina.blogspot.com/2010/12/james-mangolds-knight-and-day.html

  3. lars

    i guess its a good thing i watch cult classics and stay away from mainstream movies, especially with tom cruise or cameron diaz. it made my experience about 10 times more enjoyable than yours… of course if all you do is watch movies (need i fill in blank?). this film is great for families, but of course leave it to the SERIOUS people to complain that every movie isnt a dream movie as if there is some sort of perfection you can grab ahold of in this world. the outrageous “its just one of those things” moments mixed with enough show of smarts earned my approval. I think i read in another review (about five times more idiotic) that there is no real human communication in this movie. i had no idea these laws exist. my partner and i communicate in a similar fashion all the time. i guess im not human

  4. Bel

    I just watched this movie on cable. It came on exactly at midnight on my 40th birthday. Maybe I’m getting old and cynical, but I think “Knight and Day” fails not because they didnt try hard enough, but because everyone is trying too hard to make it into a summer blockbuster. You can just see the Hollywood suits hovering behind the director, being pains in the ass.

    Clearly, the studio wanted their version of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” , and it’s box office success. Although Cruise and Diaz have chemistry, it pales in comparison to the off-the-charts sizzle of Jolie and Pitt.

    Plus, the script is terrible for “Knight”. You can almost smell the hundreds of disjointed rewrites. Also, Ms. Diaz is getting a bit long in the tooth to play the ‘ditzy blonde’ for much longer. Take a clue from Jolie, and start playing the smart, savvy badass chick (and no, ‘Charlie’s Angels’ doesn’t count!).

    Another commenter made reference to the Hitchcock comparisons, which is either witty or plagiaristic, depending on how you look at it. Hitchcock, in a twisted way, would probably be flattered.

    Overall, “Knight and Day” ain’t half bad when watching it like I did: as a newly-minted 40 year old insomniac on the verge of a midlife crisis. But then again, even “Gigli” would be watchable under those circumstances…

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