Sunday, 15 August 2010

Knight and Day

A sharp black comedy that has unfortunately (and perhaps, inevitably) been packaged as a slick, all-action spy extravaganza, Knight and Day is both helped and hindered by its top lining star names. On the one hand, the glittering repertoires of both Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are more than enough to suggest they're comfortable with dark, edgy material. After all, Born on the Fourth of July and Being John Malkovich weren't exactly conventionally joyful affairs were they? Both actors certainly seem to be on same page as director James Mangold, veteran of character led, actor-friendly flicks like Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma, one who can draw nuanced turns out of big-name performers.

But, and it's a big but, compromises will always get in the way when star wattage is involved. Studios get twitchy and test audiences get bored when crude iconographies aren't lived up to. Hence, Knight and Day, in its latter half, takes a sharp nosedive into tiresome mayhem, a pity considering the witty set-up that both Cruise and Diaz are clearly so energised by. Cruise, in particular, emits a wonderful sense of self-parody in the early going, belying the (deserved) public villifcation over his creepy scientology and sofa-hopping shennanigans. When he's reduced however to what appear to be an endless stream of athletics trials for London 2012, it becomes tedious, regardless of his comittment to the dangerous stunt-work.

Cruise is Roy Miller, a spy with a possibly tenuous grasp on reality, something that's not been overlooked by agency operatives Fitzgerald (a typically smarmy Peter Sarsgaard) and Director George (Viola Davis). When Diaz' June, on the way home to her sister's wedding, winds up on Cruise's plane, her life spirals out of control - literally, when he wipes out agents constituting both passengers and pilots. A half-hearted running gag has Diaz being continually drugged as Cruise whips her around the world (including his tropical island bolt-hole) in an apparent attempt to protect her from the operatives who believe them to be in league over the central maguffin (a glorified AA battery).

Before its descent into tedious, B-rent Bourne anarchy, Knight and Day genuinely surprises in its dark, vaguely misanthropic outlook. The vignette where Miller is forced to break to June the news that he has to crash land her plane is a marvellous piece of subtle comic timing, and there are plenty of clever sprinklings elsewhere (a flying motorcycle preceding Cruise landing on the bonnet of a vehicle Diaz has commandeered; a lovely Hitchcockian reveal of a car aboard a transport truck). The somewhat nasty reveling in guns and mayhem, where collateral damage is viewed largely as an inconvenience to the burgeoning romance between Miller and June, also strikes a somewhat edgier tone.

That is until the focus groups clearly had their way and steered the remainder of the film to its dull, predictable finale (it's hardly a coincidence that re-shoots were rumoured to be going on right up to the film's release). By drowning out the zingy dialogue through a multitude of derivative chases (including a misplaced bull fight taking place in, erm, Seville), it loses in charm what it gains in volume. The ambition is clearly still there (note the presence of heavyweight character performers Davis, Sarsgaard and Paul Dano, all wasted as eye candy) but in the end it loses the courage of its convictions. By the end, the cycle is as predictable as night following day.

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