Reeling It In: Not great, but not bad either

Posted: Thursday, July 01, 2010

"Knight and Day"

Ap Photo/20th Century Fox, Frank Masi
Ap Photo/20th Century Fox, Frank Masi
In this film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, Cameron Diaz, left, and Tom Cruise are shown in a scene from "Knight and Day."

New Regency Pictures

1 hour, 50 minutes

Tom Cruise, once considered a sure bet as far as box-office was concerned, has lost a little of his luster as he enters his third decade of making movies. It's not all that surprising -- with younger action stars on the rise it's hard for Cruise to dominate the way he once did.

Also, as a career gets established, actors start taking more risks and engage in projects with less a guaranteed return. Not that that will work as an excuse for the impeding failure of his latest film, "Knight and Day," a prototypical action/comedy flick. Opening to a disappointing $20 million, the movie made less than half what was expected and came in third behind "Toy Story 3" and Adam Sandler's "Grown Ups." Entertainment pundits, who love the idea of suggesting that an icon like Cruise is crumbling under the weight of his own idiosyncrasies, point to the star's divorce, his religion, or the fact that he, God forbid, jumped up and down on Oprah's couch five years ago as the reason he's lost his audience.

The truth is, it has nothing to do with Tom Cruise's personal life. As much as the tabloids like to say otherwise, no one really cares what a star does on his or her own time, so long as it's legal, and most of the time that doesn't matter either. The reason "Knight and Day" is tanking is very simple. It's up against "Toy Story 3" and a stupid Adam Sandler flick. That, and the fact that, for the year so far, movies, in general, and action-comedies, in particular, have been pretty terrible.

It's too bad, though -- "Knight and Day" is actually pretty entertaining and is, if not a great movie, not a terrible one either.

Cruise is Roy Miller, a super-secret agent, supposedly gone "rogue." Cameron Diaz is June Havens, a quirky blonde beauty who restores classic cars, and is returning home to Boston after a parts-gathering jaunt to Wichita, Kansas. Roy and June have a few chance encounters in the airport that may or may not have been accidental (you never know with these secret agent types) and end up on the same, oddly empty return flight. The two strike up a conversation and after a couple of drinks, June heads off to the bathroom. She returns determined to woo this handsome stranger, only to discover that he's killed the pilots, the steward staff, and the few other passengers on board, competing agents all.

From there follows a wacky adventure the likes of which you've seen a million times before, but the charm of "Knight and Day" is that it never takes itself too seriously. This isn't a spoof, by any means, but neither is it "Die Hard" or even "Mission Impossible." The tone of the film resembles a fable or a comic book more than anything else. Wildly impossible or improbable things happen, but you aren't asked to buy it whole-heartedly, so suspension of disbelief is pretty easy.

Most of what "Knight" has going for it is contained in the appealing nature of its stars. Cruise is just as good as he ever was and looks great for being almost 50. Diaz is charming and funny, beautiful but not pretending to be younger than she is. The two have great chemistry, a fact Cameron Crowe exploited nearly a decade ago in "Vanilla Sky." Unfortunately that movie was a flop as well, so maybe it's chemistry people just don't want to see.

Apart from the acting, which ranges from fine for the principals to at least passable for everyone else, "Knight" is pretty funny, playing to both action movie and romantic cliches while rarely overplaying its hand. The fact that the plot is fairly convoluted and pointlessly twisty is unimportant, in the end. This isn't the kind of movie where details are all that vital.

On the other hand, dialogue is pretty important no matter what kind of movie you're making, and the dialogue in "Knight" is abysmal. Tom Cruise has clout -- couldn't he do something about some of these lines? It gets especially bad at the end where the screenwriters undoubtedly thought they were being clever by circling back to half the lame quippy lines from earlier in the movie, but giving them each a new spin. Ugh.

Worst of all, Roy Miller abruptly turns urban at one point, whispering to his heroine amid a madcap motorcycle chase, "You got skills, June Havens." Come on.

"Knight and Day" is actually better than I thought it would be after seeing the fairly lackluster trailer. It's nothing to write home about, but every big star should get a few throwaway movies without the media dismissing their career as being in the toilet. Look at Harrison Ford. He's made many more mediocre movies than Tom Cruise, but he gets a pass. The media wants to like Ford because he seems like a real guy. Cruise presents a jocular, collegial persona in interviews, but it's obviously just a front for a very private guy with some wacky beliefs.

Personally, I don't find it important whether he likes psychology or not. He can worship dead science fiction writers, aliens in the bloodstream, or his neighbor's dog, for all I care. He's a good actor who delivers a consistently good, if not always stellar, product. Entertainment rags want to exploit anything even mildly eccentric to pronounce the demise of Cruise's career, but I think most Americans are like me. When he makes another really good movie, the audience will be there in droves. Until then, silly little throwaways like "Knight and Day" will have to do.

Grade: B-

"Knight and Day" is rated PG-13 for language and action violence.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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