Willing suspension of critical faculties
I’ll freely admit I enjoyed Knight and Day – in which master criminal-cum-cop-cum-spy Tom Cruise embarks on an intercontinental gallivant, having (literally) stumbled into winsome, dippy and adorable Cameron Diaz – even if I don’t really understand why. As I reflected on the film over the weekend it occurred to me that, critically speaking, I’d had my pocket picked. But at least I had been swindled as masterfully and outrageously as any of the many conspiracies in the movie. Before I realised what had happened, the thief had melted into the crowd. I can now barely remember the film. In fact, I’m not even entirely sure I went.
For there are few good reasons to enjoy this film other than the sheer gall the producers have in serving up something so preposterous, incoherent and, at the end of the day, lazy. But I still can’t deny: I laughed a lot. I walked out feeling like this would have been a tenner well spent. It seemed like a good deal at the time; a couple of days later, I feel like I’ve had my wallet lifted.
Knight and Day belts along, and that’s the key to its success: it never allows you to pause for a moment. Certainly, never long enough to gather your wits: it is a perpetual, preposterous, onslaught. Now, preposterous in this sort of film is okay; indeed, in the genre, mandatory; but there are limits, and with its unstoppable momentum Knight and Day barrels straight though them without a backward glance.
The set pieces – there are dozens of them, laid end on end – each go over the top in a way that even the Bond franchise would baulk at. They are, of course, leavened by humour and visual gags which excuse the ultra-violence (on an Alpine train, a man with a kitchen knife protruding from his chest saves himself from falling out a train window (briefly) by grabbing a string of sausages. It’s Austria!). But there are so many set pieces, with so many different actors involved, that the necessary confusion – again, de rigueur in a romantic farce – is lost totally in the maelstrom of unnecessary incoherence and narrative laziness. Cruise escapes on two or three occasions from seemingly impossible situations (in a cell, hanging upside down, in a straight-jacket, swinging to and fro like a pendulum) without any explanation at all. But, then again, there was no good explanation of how he got there in the first place: easy come, easy go, I suppose.
None of the countless supporting characters has a hope of developing into anything more than a prop. Each, accordingly, fails to. The film gratuitously belts around the planet in search of exotic locales (I counted Boston, Kansas, Austria, Spain, the Azores and South America) and many of these seem to have been chosen purely to show off a CGI budget which, by its genre, the film really shouldn’t need at all. There was no call for computerised charging bulls in Cadiz, cartwheeling motor-vehicles on divers freeways or buzzing space-aged jet-fighters in the Azores – but they threw them in anyway, perhaps in a magician’s hopeful attempt to distract the viewer from the sleight of hand going on in front of his nose.
Diaz is her usual winsome, dippy and pretty self, and repeatedly shows off her winning/cloying (depending on your view) grin. Amusingly enough, she suffers from the deliberate running joke of being repeatedly drugged at critical junctures (on one occasion, even being subjected to a Vulcan Nerve-Pinch), but her character’s arc is less plausible even than Cruise’s. I suppose we should be grateful she even has one.
In fairness to Cruise and Diaz, they remain consummate professionals and make watchable something that could easily have been a train wreck. They both nail every one of their one-liners. Could this film possibly have worked without such reliable A-listers at the helm? I doubt it.
So why is this film called Knight and Day, then? There is half a reason, but it isn’t a good one (Roy Miller’s “real” name is Knight and (symbolically!) a plastic knight features as a MacGuffin of sorts) but there’s no reason for the Day bit as far as I can detect. The producers tried and (rightly) rejected a couple of other names (the irrelevant “Wichita” and the lacklustre “Trouble Man”: they didn’t consider “Miller’s Crossing” sadly), but the general issue with the name might point to the film’s main problem: it’s hard to name a film which has has almost no identity. Knight and Day is just kind of there – it coalesces, like a traffic jam at rush hour.
It’s different from a traffic jam in that, at least for the first hour, it’s tremendously entertaining
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Jordi Molla, Paul Dano
Runtime: 109 mins