Tom Cruise doesn’t make bad movies. A look back at his filmography reveals one of the most consistent resumes in Hollywood outside of Pixar, and even though Knight and Day isn’t very good, he’s done it again. There are two movies happening here. In one Cameron Diaz seems to be in some sort of ill-advised North by Northwest remake. In the other, a lot of which seems to happen off camera, Tom Cruise stars at his most unhinged in the best spy movie since The Bourne Ultimatum. That other movie seems like it must be good, even if Knight and Day is not.
A big part of the problem is the premise, which is as worn out as those babysitting movies The Rock keeps doing. There’s a spy. There’s a normal girl. Normal girl gets dragged into the spy’s world, doesn’t know how to react, they fall in love. We’ve seen this movie too many times before. Knight and Day tries to compensate for this with creativity, by adding its own twist on the genre, unfortunately much of that creativity doesn’t exactly work.
There’s the soundtrack, which alternates between Parisian romance movie theme and ill-fitting alt-rock. Knight and Day plays slow, plucky, romantic music in all the fast moments and then just sort of gives up and lolls around in the slow ones. I assume this is supposed to seem quirky but all it really does is suck all the life out of the action sequences. Exploding cars just aren’t as fun when you’re listening to a string quartet. I get what director James Mangold is going for here, even admire him for trying it. He seems to be attempting a sort of classic, Carey Grant vibe and that’s admirable, it just never quite fits what’s going on in frame.
Speaking of what’s going on up there in front of the camera, it’s kind of a mess. Cameron Diaz is almost unforgivably annoying as normal girl June Havens, she mostly seems to get in the way . Maybe she has fans and maybe they’ll like her performance, to be fair I should probably disclosed that I haven’t found her bearable since 1994 in The Mask. Since she keeps working, I assume someone out there can stand the sight of her.
More important than Diaz’s ongoing failure to be watchable is the way the movie’s structured. Mangold, again attempting to evoke that classic Carey Grant nostalgia, skips over a lot of the movie’s action. He does that through a neat little plot device in which Cruise’s Roy Miller keeps knocking June unconscious every time something incredibly frightening’s about to happen. June passes out and when she wakes up the action’s over and she may or may not be wearing different clothes. This leads to high-comedy and Cruise seems to be having a lot of fun with it, but it also means that most of the movie’s most exciting scenes all happen off camera. Somewhere out there off camera we know Roy Miller has just pulled off the greatest piece of helicopter piloting in the history of mankind, but we’ll never see it. It’s funny once, cute twice, but by the third or fourth time you start to question whether you’re watching a movie or one big tease. Wasn’t there a way to keep the comedy and, you know, show us what’s going on? I’d like to think so.
Still there’s Cruise who, even though we’re never really allowed to see him at his badass best, makes the most of what he has. Miller’s a fantastic character, full of contradictions and strange quirks. He’s at his best in the movie’s first half, when we’re left wondering whether Roy Miller’s actually a spy or simply a man who’s gone completely mad. Cruise makes the ridiculous look easy as he stares down common sense, shoots it in the head, and then flies his motorcycle anyway. Tom seems to know what he’s doing, even when Mangold’s camera doesn’t. Knight & Day often feels hesitant and unsure of itself but in any given scene Cruise, almost as if he’s directing himself, always looks like he knows exactly what to do.
The premise is tired, the tone doesn’t exactly work, and I honestly still have no idea why it’s called Knight and Day. Yet you’ve got to give this movie at least some credit. It tries, and it tries hard. Tasked with making something fresh and original out of an idea that ran out of gas in 2005, it throws everything it can at the wall and tries to make it stick. Most of it doesn’t, but maybe that doesn’t matter when you have Tom Cruise.