Monday, June 28, 2010


“Walk The Line” director James Mangold and television scenarist Patrick O’Neill must have watched a bunch of European espionage thrillers from the 1960s before they made the new Tom Cruise & Cameron Diaz movie “Knight and Day.” This predictable but entertaining international actioneer brings Cruise and Diaz together as two people on the lam from Federal agents and a trigger-happy Spanish arms dealer. The first time that Cruise and Diaz worked together, they made the murky “Vanilla Sky” (2001) with Kurt Russell. Indeed, “Knight and Day” (**1/2 out of ****) qualifies as a big improvement over “Vanilla Sky.” Furthermore, “Knight and Day” surpasses the similar themed “Killers” with Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl. Nevertheless, this breathlessly paced, Alfred Hitchcock style, thriller lacks the flair of Cruise’s “Mission Impossible 2” that Hong Kong action maestro John Woo turned into a slow-motion bullet ballet with our hero surviving some pretty incredible predicaments. “Knight and Day” boasts its share of hair-raising, cliff-hanger scenes. Most of them, however, have been performed before without blue screens and Mangold cannot substitute momentum for imagination. This is one of those improbable shoot’em up sagas where the virile hero is mighty handy with any fully automatic weapon in sight. He knows a thing or two about riding on the hood of a careening car while firing at multiple villains pursing him. In fact, some of the scenes here look as if they were lifted from “Tomorrow Never Dies,” “Wanted,” “Moonraker,” and “Charade,” not to mention all those Euro-thrillers. Audiences looking for something different may enjoy this above-average but contrived travelogue with fantastic photography and a credible cast.

Tom Cruise plays Roy Miller. This Roy Miller has nothing in common with the Roy Miller that Matt Damon portrayed in the superior Iraq thriller “Green Zone.” Cruise’s Roy works for the CIA. He has stolen a small, D-sized battery that is "the first perpetual energy source since the sun." He explains to June (Cameron Diaz of “The Box”) that the Zephyr “isn’t your average Duracell." In fact, this is one battery that never has to be recharged. The darned thing runs forever. In the Hitchcock thrillers, the object that motivates the plot is referred to as a MacGuffin. Basically, a MacGuffin is something that the good guys and the bad guys are prepared to kill each other for to acquire. FBI agent Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard of “Orphan”) heads up the team of gun-toting agents nipping at Roy’s heels. At the Wichita, Kansas, airport, Roy spots pretty June and slips the Zephyr into her luggage packed with spare car parts so that it will make it through airport security. Initially, when she tries to board the plane, the airline attendant informs June that she will have to take a later flight. Savvy Fitzgerald spotted the switch in the terminal and allows June to get a seat on the flight. Roy was hoping that this wouldn’t happen. Naturally, June is surprised when she finds more than three-fourths of the seats aboard empty. Roy and she strike up a conversation. She reveals that she restores old cars. The jetliner hits turbulence and Roy catches her falling luggage before it smashes into her. All of this happens so quickly that June spills her drink into her lap. She heads off to the restroom to clean up. While she is in the restroom, she wonders about this mysterious guy. Meanwhile, Roy has his hands full with several tough customers who try to kill him, including the pilots. He dispatches them all as if he had been trained by James Bond and Jason Bourne. When June emerges from the toilet, everybody—including the pilots—lay dead, and Roy crash lands the jetliner in a cornfield in the middle of nowhere at night. Predictably, as they are trudging away from the crash, the fuselage bursts into flames and several terrific explosions ensue.

Roy explains to June that some suspicious people are going to visit her. They are going to tell her a lot of bad things about him. For example, they are going to call him a rogue agent with little regard for life and no qualms about killing. They are also going to tell her that they are going to take her to a safe and secure place. Roy warns June not to climb into a vehicle with these liars. Moreover, whenever they mention the words ‘safe’ and ‘secure’ they are planning on killing her. Afterward, he knocks her out with a drugged drink so he can get her out of the line of fire. Keeping June out of the line of fire is somewhat more difficult than Roy envisaged. He has to abduct her at gun point in broad daylight from a Boston diner to clear her name. During this abduction, Roy has to shoot her ex-boyfriend, Boston firefighter Rodney (Marc Blucas of “Animals”), in the thigh to dissuade him from following them. If June appears to be Roy’s hostage, then the authorities—principally the CIA's director of counterespionage, Ms. George (Viola Davis of “Law Abiding Citizen”)—won’t think that she is a conspirator. Meanwhile, Spanish arms dealer Antonio Quintero (Jordi Mollà of “The Alamo”) dispatches hordes of gunmen dressed like an army of SWAT riot patrolmen to descend on our heroes.

Clocking in at 110 minutes, “Knight and Day” lunges from one outlandish predicament to another like a hyperactive James Bond thriller. The audience will find itself in the same shoes that June—the ultimate innocent bystander without a clue—wears because both the good guys and the bad guys parcel out information piecemeal to make sure that it doesn’t interfere with the slam-bang stunts, reckless high speed car and motorcycle stunts, and the exploding SUVs that somersault through the air. Cruise musters his boyish “Risky Business” charisma and Diaz flaunts her terrific body. They are both sympathetic characters, and director James Mangold has the good sense to slap on layers of comedy to undercut some of the high body count shoot-outs. Nevertheless, “Knight and Day” seems too incoherent and second rate to top even Cruise’s worst “Mission Impossible” thriller—“Mission Impossible 3”—and the surprises aren’t very surprising in the long run.

No comments: