9 August 2010

Assault and Battery- KNIGHT AND DAY Review

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

After years in development, a script by relative newcomer Patrick O'Neill makes it to the big screen as Knight and Day. June Havens is one of those mythical female mechanics that male audiences are supposed to slobber over, and she's travelling home to Boston for her sister's wedding. On the flight, a chance encounter with secret agent Roy Miller entangles her in the race for an everlasting power source that he is supposed to be protecting. Oh, so that's why it's called Knight and Day. No, hold on, what?

Let's get this bit out of the way. There's no reason for this film to be called Knight and Day. It is a stunningly irrelevant title. At different stages in its development, it was titled Wichita, which kind of makes sense with the film but isn't a great title, and Trouble Man, which almost sounds like a lost-in-translation international title for Mr. Bean. Even so, having seen the film, I could probably come up with a better title off the top of my head. Assault and Battery, for instance. Not great, but a better and more relevant pun than fucking Knight and Day either way!

Right, moving on then- aside from being christened by morons, the film has been advertised by the very same morons. Stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz have given shockingly white grins to press outlets as they liken the film to a modern day North by Northwest. A lofty comparison to make, and one that this film comes off worse from. The themes of mistaken identity and the prevalence of a MacGuffin suggests where they're coming from but its stars are no Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, and its director is definitely no Hitchcock.

Fair enough, most directors aren't Hitchcock, and James Mangold's direction isn't terrible. It's just kind of colourless- the film is a studio product in which authorship can't really be detected. Didn't you wonder why all of these pictures I'm embedding look more or less the same? It's also why we have that title- the colour orange isn't particularly relevant to the world of telecommunications, but it's a brand name. Knight and Day is less "the name of a work of art or literary composition" (thank you, Wikipedia) than the name of a product being hocked to the audience.

That's only exacerbated by Cruise's performance. I actually think he's pretty good in this one, but the problem is that he's the largest thing in the film, and he's not that good. All of the other characters, especially Diaz's June, are passive- things just happen to them because of whatever Cruise... er... Miller is doing in that scene. And so talents like Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis and Paul Dano are pissed away against the gale-force wind of our male lead.

Even though it's set within the typical framework of a romantic comedy, it's really more of a straightforward action film. All the actually funny bits are in the trailer, with the rest of the story pitched as a frothy but straightforward spy thriller. I refer you back to the advertised by morons bit, but part of the reason why I liked Tom Cruise in this one is because it's an outlet for his particular brand of bog-eyed charisma, played almost stalkerish. It still feels like a step backward for him, and audiences would seem to agree- this film flopped when it opened in the States, against the decidedly weak Adam Sandler and friends comedy, Grown Ups.

Negative word of mouth could possibly have killed it off, and I can see why this relatively inoffensive star vehicle would actually offend some people. Put simply, it cheats. Whenever O'Neill writes himself into a corner, he has the resolution occur off-screen while one of the characters is unconscious. This is almost funny the first time, but when it's deployed four or five times to avoid explaining or rationalising any of the plot, it becomes insulting.

But to me, it's not really as insulting as the Megan Fox school of thought subscribed to herein, which doesn't realise that Cameron Diaz talking about car engineering is only as sexy as James May talking about it, i.e. it isn't.

Knight and Day is an heavy-handed and underpowered homage to Hitchcock thrillers that doesn't so much miss the mark as set itself a mark that its target audience won't really recognise. Even if the filmmakers' ambitions were unrealistic, it does just about what you'd expect from this kind of thing without outstaying its welcome for too long.

What it does has been done better, but it's also been done much worse. It's certainly better at doing what it's supposed to do than The A-Team or Killers were. As for the conceit of bringing its leads together, there's still something to be said for the power of likable stars, but unlike the MacGuffin these stars are after, that power seems to burn out somewhere before the last 30 minutes.

Knight and Day is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If and when you see Knight and Day, why not leave a comment on the film and/or my review? If you can think of a better title than the one they went with, and you most assuredly can, please feel free to call the film whatever you want!

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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