Bourne to Run
Tom Cruise film is part spoof, mostly pleasure
by Jason Blair
KNIGHT AND DAY: Directed by James Mangold. Written by Patrick O’Neill. Cinematography, Phedon Papamichael. Music, John Powell. Starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis and Paul Dano. 20th Century Fox, 2010. PG-13. 110 minutes.
|Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in Knight and Day
Arriving at a theater near you is Knight and Day and, hovering above it, the dark cloud that has become Tom Cruise. Weather seems a fitting metaphor for a global phenomenon like Cruise — Forbes once ranked him as the world’s most powerful celebrity — particularly since his Oprah frolic, which saw his career go from lightning to lightning rod in an instant. Actually, wind is the better analogy: When it comes to a Tom Cruise film, he’s the thing that makes it go and the thing that holds it back. It wasn’t long ago that Cruise was big — not Jesus big or even Beatles big, but Michael Jackson big — and like the King of Pop, when we sensed Cruise kneeling at his own altar, we sacrificed him upon it.
Knight and Day isn’t Cruise’s best film, but he’s easily the best thing in it, a fact that may not sway his hardcore detractors. (Actors, like presidents, have favorability ratings, and Cruise’s rating is equivalent to Bush’s record low in 2006.) For everyone else, Knight is arguably the strongest summer action flick since 2008’s Iron Man. Cruise plays Roy Miller, a Jason Bourne-like superagent who may have gone rogue for all the right reasons. What sets Roy apart from the Bournes and Bonds is that he’s something of a clown, a subversion of the spy hero similar to Owen Wilson’s whiny cowboy in Shanghai Noon. The skewed perspective invigorates Knight’s pedestrian conceit concerning which side Roy is on, a problem his hostage, the batty but glamorous June Havens (Cameron Diaz), endlessly tries to determine. Roy and June hook up in midair when a planeful of assassins target Roy as June preens in the airplane bathroom. When she emerges, Roy struggles to explain the dead bodies: Apparently, June disarms him more effectively than any hit man.
Roy is in possession of a superbattery called the Zephyr, a tiny, never-ending power supply. But the battery is simply the MacGuffin which allows elements of the plot to come forward — and other actors, all of them recent headliners, from Viola Davis (Doubt) and Peter Sarsgaard (An Education) as Roy’s colleagues to Paul Dano (There Will be Blood) as the whiz kid responsible for inventing the battery. Whether Roy is a knight or a dragon is an open question throughout most of Knight, but the film lives and dies with the chemistry betweem Cruise and Diaz, of which there is plenty. Sure, Diaz enters the film with the slightest wisp of a Boston accent — the kiss of death in films from Quiz Show to Shutter Island — which she jettisons a few moments later, never to recover. And if you want overtly ridiculous montages, Knight and Day has more than a couple. But it also has wit and humor aplenty, as well as music that at first seems incongruous (tango during a shootout?) but in fact comes off flawlessly.
Speaking of couples, June eventually is less a hostage than an admirer. Whether she becomes Roy’s accomplice is another matter altogether. What’s worth doing is worth doing to excess in Knight and Day, and for the most part, it hits its targets. Mixing the trademark Bourne paranoia with the romance-on-the-run fare of North by Northwest, Knight’s appeal is in how easily it sends up the tradition of spies-in-love films, including Cruise’s own Mission: Impossible cycle. If it did so more consistently, Knight would be a summer movie classic. Instead, it’s just a dose of much-needed summer fun.