Cruising For A Bruising

Christopher Orr at The Atlantic:

First, a clarification regarding the title of the newly released action-comedy Knight and Day: “Knight” refers either to a) the long-abandoned family name of one of the two principal characters, a glamorous superspy played by Tom Cruise who, for all narrative and promotional purposes, now goes by the name “Roy Miller”; or b) a small toy paladin in which a Secret Device that Could Change the World is briefly hidden. And “Day”? One might imagine that it refers to the spunky everygal played by costar Cameron Diaz. One would be wrong. (Her character’s name is “June Havens.”) In fact, it doesn’t refer to anything at all; the word’s sole purpose is to balance the already-a-stretch “Knight.” I mean honestly. If we had to go down this path at all, why not A Knight to Remember, or Knight Moves? The titillating PG-13 innuendo of A Knight in June? Or, with appropriate legal representation on call, Darkest Knight? But no, for no discernable reason outside the preferences of some anonymous focus group, we’re given Knight and Day, Cole Porter be damned.

A film that treats its own title so, ahem, cavalierly can hardly be expected to be diligent when it comes to such niceties as plot, character, and pacing–but Knight and Day exceeds even such anti-expectations. It is woefully scattered, alternatingly slack and frenetic, and transcendently preposterous. Remarkably, it is also, for a time, reasonably diverting for anyone willing to jettison everything they know about love, espionage, and narrative cohesion.

Dana Stevens at Slate:

Whoever read the last draft of the oft-rewritten script never even bothered to check whether the title made sense, which it doesn’t. “Knight,” it eventually comes out, is one of the aliases and possibly the real name of Cruise’s character, who goes by Roy Miller. It would have been easy enough to surname Cameron Diaz’s character “Day” for the sake of parallelism, but instead, she’s June Havens. You can’t help but wonder whether some assistant mentioned this discrepancy in a story meeting, only to be quashed by the confident assertion, “Ah, no one’ll notice!”

That misplaced self-confidence is exactly what’s so aggravating about Roy Miller. He doesn’t need to answer for his motivation, his origins, his reason for being. He just flashes that set of outsized mah-jongg-tile teeth in his disturbingly ageless face and jumps astride another vehicle careening through the streets of Salzburg, or Seville, or wherever the protagonists of this globe-hopping yet strangely incurious travelogue happen to find themselves. Even though Knight & Day wasn’t written for Cruise—a recent Times piece tracked its journey through the hands of Adam Sandler, Chris Tucker, and Gerard Butler—in its final version the film reads as a kind of treatise on the state of Cruise-itude in our time.

The character of Roy Miller is so quintessentially Cruise-ian that he skirts the edges of self-conscious parody. He’s an indestructible superspy who’s bottomlessly cheerful and yet vaguely malevolent. Roy seems to lack any interiority whatsoever; even when he’s telling the truth, he appears to be lying. (Cruise’s most memorable characters have tended to be liars: Jerry Maguire, the kid in Risky Business, the unstable self-help guru in Magnolia.)

Cole Abaius at Film School Rejects:

June Havens (Cameron Diaz) is trying to make it back home to Boston when she bumps into Roy Miller (Tom Cruise), a secret agent who has gone rogue with something very important to the federal government. As much as he tries to avoid her becoming a part of the game, she ends up either having to be glued to his side or taken out by some very bad men. The two will have to secure a young inventor (Paul Dano) and expose or kill the true rogue agent before it’s too late.

High concept stuff like this is usually a connect-the-dots version of filmmaking, and there are a lot of elements here that seem like they were looked up in the Screenwriters Dictionary. The characters, when they can, do their best to keep it light and distract from the fact that the chase scenes and momentum is the same we’ve seen from almost every spy movie out there (including a few that Cruise has been in before). At some points, the movie dances right up to the line of parody, but instead of crossing it boldly, the situations or shots end up simply looking like bad filmmaking.

This isn’t aided by how cheap the movie looks. A distracting amount of CGI looks like it was slapped on with an old brush – most noticeably the car sequences, which look like an updated version of the old green screen technique which found Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart doing the cabbage patch on the steering wheel while the car was going straight forward. Substitute Tom Cruise for Grant, gunfire for the cabbage patch, and stock footage of the city, and you’ll start to get the idea.

Those scenes seem in direct conflict with some capably shot action that genuinely evokes the gasp for air that a good explosion should. Plus, director James Mangold and company do something different with a handful of those scenes: taking a look at the action from the point of view of June’s character, a character completely trapped by circumstance. There is enough action to satiate (in fact, the whole movie is basically action), but in the beginning, much of the action happens from strange angles. Back seats of cars, off to the side just barely in view, from around a corner. It places the viewer right in the mindset of someone who’s effectively been kidnapped and tossed into a reality where grenades are the norm, and it works incredibly well. The ingenuity alone should be applauded, but pulling it off deserves a slow clap and a round of champagne.

Unfortunately, the experimentation of the film doesn’t stop there. There’s a particular plot device which also thrusts the viewer into June’s position, and it’s intriguing, but it makes the film choppy in an unforgivable way and often feels like the Lazy Man’s Plot Fix. It’s the kind of pacing issue that Mangold ran into with Identity, and it’s enough to make this movie feel more like Knight and Day, Interrupted.

As for Cruise and Diaz, this isn’t the first time they’ve worked on screen together, but they come off as far too cold. Each seems to have lost some of the original spark that first drew audiences to them, and it makes an otherwise brisk movie drag like it’s carrying a dying career carcass behind it. When the two do find that spark, the movie is full of life and eyebrow-raising moments, but too many times the pair seems to want to go through the bullet-dodging motions in order to get to the scenes that they’re actually looking forward to. Simply put – it’s always good to see actors having fun, but it’s torture to see actors working.

Patrick Bromley at Reelloop:

Say what you will about Tom Cruise –and in recent years, he’s given us all plenty to say — but for a long time, there were few superstar actors who knew how to pick just the right projects for themselves as well as he did. Even when the movies weren’t great (and they often weren’t), you could feel Cruise single-handedly dragging the film towards success through the sheer force of hard work and star power. But the Tom Cruise of 2010 (post Lions for Lambs and Valkyrie) is floundering, and it’s on display in Knight and Day, a movie that looks and feels like one of Cruise’s movies but which is just going through the motions. He can’t get away with playing another variation on Ethan Hunt anymore. The Knight and Day trailers suggest that Cruise’s character could be a superspy or he could just be a crazy person detached from reality, and the promise of that possibility is what got me into the theater. Not only would Cruise be subverting his own status as an action star, but also knowingly acknowledging the questions of his mental stability that so many audience members have had in the last four or five years. It would have been Cruise taking a risk as an actor, and transitioning his usual steel-eyed determination into a new phase of his career. More than anything, though, it would have given Knight and Day a reason for existing.

Sadly, Knight and Day has nothing new to offer. After a promising opening, the movie just melts away into a series of noisy action beats and sloppy dialogue exchanges. Diaz is appropriately shrieky, I guess, but fails to recapture any of the Vanilla Sky chemistry she once had with Cruise. Even the action is mostly handled in front of unconvincing green screens, all but ruining the inventive, practical stunt work we’ve come to expect from Cruise in the post-Mission: Impossible world. The villains aren’t threatening, character motivations don’t make much sense and director Mangold, usually so good at crafting solid populist entertainment just isn’t able to bring it all together in a satisfying way. The result is an action comedy that is neither funny nor exciting, trying to coast on the charm of two movie stars who haven’t been given characters to play.

Alison Nastasi at Cinematical:

If you want to see Tom Cruise reprise his role as secret agent Ethan Hunt then word around Hollywood is that you better pony up the ticket price to see Cruise’s latest film, Knight and Day. If that film flops, Paramount may drastically alter their plans for the fourth installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise.

Reports state that Paramount executives are concerned about the opening tracking numbers for Cruise’s latest action film and are hoping the five day totals are respectable (which seems more like a dream than a realistic hope given that the opening day tally for the film was a paltry $3.8 million). Meanwhile, the script for the fourth installment in the M:I franchise has just been turned in, and Brad Grey and Rob Moore are in the process of trying to determine that film’s preliminary budget. If Knight and Day underperforms, the thinking is that Paramount will either scrap M:I4 completely, shift the focus of the film to Hunt and Shia LaBeouf a younger agent, or cut the budget dramatically. None of those things seems to bode particularly well for Cruise or the studio.

Brooks Barnes at New York Times:

Boy, are the knives out for Tom Cruise.

Consider a few of the headlines that have popped up even before “Knight and Day,” his latest big-budget movie, has completed its first weekend in the marketplace. Forbes: “Toys Will Crush Cruise At Box Office.” Cinematical.com: “See ‘Knight & Day’ and Save Tom Cruise’s Career.” New York Magazine: “Fox Struggles to Overcome the Tom Cruise Problem.”

There is certainly a case to be made that Mr. Cruise made this bed and now must lie in it. The couch jumping, the Scientology spouting, the dumping of his power publicist – it has without question hurt his career, perhaps irreparably.

And “Knight and Day” is certainly a wreck, with opening-day ticket sales of $3.8 million and some over-the-top critical hatred. But let’s be fair: This movie’s troubles don’t hang on Mr. Cruise’s shoulders alone.

Why is nobody talking about the failure of his co-star, Cameron Diaz, to deliver an audience here? Who came up with the title? It’s odd and doesn’t telegraph what the picture is about. Meanwhile, the studio marketing has also appeared tentative at times: billboards at the same time pump Mr. Cruise’s involvement — his name is big – while also downplaying it — where’s his picture?

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