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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Knight and Day (review)

I Spy a Dud

Is it too much of a “spoiler” to “reveal” that a certain movie cannot be spoiled? That a movie has no big surprises on offer to blow you away and make you go, “Wow, I so did not see that coming! Awesome!” That a movie is absolutely, 100 percent nothing more than what is up there on the screen right at the tippy-top surface of the story?

Subtext? Suspense? A little bit of mystery in the mystery? Just an itty-bitty twist? Bah! Who needs it! Knight and Day may have generic characters doing generic things in generic situations, but it’s got Movie Stars with huge white smiles looking pretty and being blandly inoffensive in exotic foreign locales. What’s that? You need more than that? Why do you hate Hollywood?
Look: Everything that Knight and Day is doing, basic cable is doing way better these days. You want spy comedy in an exotic locale that’s actually funny and exciting and intense and witty and smart and suspenseful? Go watch Burn Notice, which kicks Knight and Day’s ass back to 1986, where it came from. I mean, fer the love of Jason Bourne, K&D has a “we go on 1, 2, 3” joke, and Lethal Weapon would like it back.

The 1980s would also like back its ditzy blonde. Cameron Diaz’s (Shrek Forever After, The Box) June is like something out of an old sitcom, a cute nincompoop who can fix cars and throw a punch because “my dad wanted boys” — not because women might naturally be inclined to like such things as vintage automobiles and kickboxing — and is utterly incapable of doing anything remotely not-idiotic unless she’s been dosed with a disinhibiting truth serum. Girls be like that, you know, all hung up and repressed and stuff unless they’re intoxicated, and then — woo-hoo! — look out. People treat June like a moron, and she doesn’t even notice. It’s bad enough when she’s turned away from an airline flight in the beginning of the movie because, the check-in lady tells her, the flight is fully booked, no room at the inn… and then, when some sort of spy shenanigans maneuver her onto this flight, it’s almost entirely empty except for Tom Cruise and a couple of guys who want to kill him for some spy reason or other, and all she can manage is a crack about how it’s no wonder the airlines are going out of business (and not a fume about how she was lied to for, as far as she can tell, no apparent reason, and a threat to sue, or at least a call to the gnome at Travelocity to come and kick some airline ass). But that’s nothing to what happens when she tries to tell her boyfriend, Rodney (Marc Blucas: Meet Dave, The Jane Austen Book Club), back home about how Tom Cruise (Valkyrie, Tropic Thunder) totally went spy apeshit on the plane and freakin’ crashed it into an Iowa cornfield and stuff: Rodney acts like she makes up outrageous tall tales like this on a regular basis, only this time it’s perfectly understandable because she’s stressed out over her sister’s wedding.

It’s true that when chicks get stressed out over weddings, we make up fantastical stories about being shanghaied by supersecret superdangerous spy guys into Iowa cornfields. I’ve done it myself many a time. But there’s no evidence that June is supposed to be mentally ill.

And you know what? That would have been an awesome cool twist for Knight and Day to take: that June is mentally ill and imagining the whole thing because the CIA spiked her orange juice in the psych ward with LSD. But that’s not what is going on. What is going on is exactly what it looks like is going on: Tom Cruise, who is calling himself Roy Miller here, has to protect a macguffin device from bad guys, and now June is caught up in it all. Who is Roy? Why should June trust him? Don’t worry: your world will not be rocked by the answers to those questions.

The script plays like a student exercise. The title means nothing — nothing. It seems to believe that it’s revealing something important when it lets us know, late in the film, that Roy’s surname is actually Knight, but this has no bearing whatsoever on anything at all. We already figured his name for a fake, because we’ve seen one or two superspy movies before, and anyway, so what? Maybe the title might make sense if we could try to convince ourselves that it’s a reference, if a poor one, to how different Roy and June are, the spy and the ditz. Except June’s last name isn’t Day: it’s Havens.

And then there’s the nonsense about how June is unconscious for most of the really cool spy stuff, like traveling to exotic places where spies hang out (the Caribbean, the Alps, etc.), which I think is maybe meant to be sorta meta, skipping right over the connecting stuff, but it’s even more annoying that June herself. She’s a stupid bint who doesn’t even have a passport, and she gets to travel to all these exotic places. For free. With a spy. And we’re not even gonna get some spy service about dodging customs and such? Not fair!

And then there are the embarrassingly labored jokes, which I won’t make worse by belaboring further.

And then there’s the total wastage of actors who are way more interesting than Cruise and Diaz: Peter Sarsgaard (Orphan, An Education). Viola Davis (Law Abiding Citizen, State of Play). Paul Dano (Taking Woodstock, There Will Be Blood). Why cast such talents if you’re not gonna use them? Director James Mangold, I’m looking at you. I’m having to force myself to imagine that you, after the awesomeness that is your 3:10 to Yuma and Walk the Line, that you were somehow shanghaied into this mess. Hey, there’s an interesting idea for a movie…

Honestly, I cannot believe this was written by the same guy, Patrick O’Neill, who wrote Say Anything… Then again, he pretty much hasn’t written anything since then, and that’s more than 20 years ago.

Okay, I’ll concede that Knight and Day might have worked as late as 1993, as a halfway decent alternative after you’d seen Jurassic Park for the eighth time. But in 2010 — post Bourne, after Tom Cruise has moved on to playing Nazis and serial killers, and Cameron Diaz has moved on to playing moms in cancer weepies — this is so dated that it’s hard to believe anyone thought they could get away with it. I forgot Knight and Day while I was watching it. And now it feels like it was back in high school that I first saw it.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for sequences of action violence throughout, and brief strong language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • Patrick O’Neill, despite his lonely name on the posters, was helped by only eight different people to craft the unplotted mess opening on movie screens.

    The CG also completely ruins any attempt at action. It might actually be a bit funny to see Tom Cruise doing spy stuff without a care in the world if you actually believed for even a half-second that any of it was happening.

  • CB

    But there’s no evidence that June is supposed to be mentally ill.

    That’s funny, because the takeaway I got from the trailer when I saw it in the theater some months ago was exactly that. It seemed like they were going for the idea that she was off her rocker, and Cruise was crazy and violent too, and you would wonder whether he really was a spy, or whether that was just some crazy nonsense Diaz was prone to believe cus she’s crazy too. Maybe it’s really spy stuff going on, or maybe the people chasing them are actually the authorities trying to put these two loons back in the bin. “Well, this could be clever and fun!” I remember thinking.

    Ha! So much for that.

  • MaryAnn

    That sounds like it could be a good movie, CB. Too bad it bears little relation to what’s actually on the screen.

  • doa766

    wasn’t Roy Miller the name of Matt Damon’s character on Green Zone?

    IMDb only has Miller

  • And you know what? That would have been an awesome cool twist for Knight and Day to take: that June is mentally ill and imagining the whole thing because the CIA spiked her orange juice in the psych ward with LSD.

    Heh. There’s a movie that came out in the late 1960s or early 1970s in which Anthony Perkins–yes, the same Anthony Perkins who played Norman Bates in Psycho–played a former mental patient who pretended to be a CIA agent to impress a local girl who proved to have mental issues of her own.

    It would be nice to think that this Knight and Day is a remake–but no, it isn’t.

    And if you want to get really depressed, MaryAnn, try renting the 1949 thriller The Big Steal from Netflix this weekend. Jane Greer plays a character who is 24 years old and yet she acts way more mature than most twentysomething female characters you see in the movies nowadays–including the Cameron Diaz character in this flick. Maybe they grew up faster back then. Or perhaps since so many men and women went to work at an early age due to the Great Depression and the Second World War, they had different expectations about adulthood. Or perhaps since adults were such a big part of the movie audience back then, the characters were written in a more mature fashion.

    Yes, I know. Every age has its cinematic dross and detritus. But it’s kinda depressing to watch the trailer for this and think, “That’s the best we can do nowadays? Seriously?”

    And for what’s it worth, it seemed obvious from the trailer that K & D stole a few bits from True Lies as well.

  • I_Sell_Books

    Viola Davis is in this?? Wtf? Why doesn’t she just move to Britain, where her talents could be appreciated?

  • MaryAnn

    Maybe they grew up faster back then.

    I think that’s true, to a certain degree. If the 50s invented teenagerdom, then the 90s and the 00s invented an extended adolescence that seems to last until one is 40, at least for some people.

  • CB

    That sounds like it could be a good movie, CB. Too bad it bears little relation to what’s actually on the screen.

    As usual, Hollywood trailer plus imagination is better than the actual product, because they forget to add imagination.

    Oh well. One less trip to the theaters for me this summer.

  • deering

    “June is like something out of an old sitcom, a cute nincompoop who can fix cars and throw a punch because “my dad wanted boys” — not because women might naturally be inclined to like such things as vintage automobiles and kickboxing — and is utterly incapable of doing anything remotely not-idiotic unless she’s been dosed with a disinhibiting truth serum….Rodney acts like she makes up outrageous tall tales like this on a regular basis, only this time it’s perfectly understandable because she’s stressed out over her sister’s wedding.”

    I’ve lost track of how many asinine “didn’t feminism kill this shit?” tropes like this movies have been racking up over the past five years. I haven’t seen any flicks yet where heroines faint when they see bodies or blood, but I guess it’s only a matter of time…

  • deering

    “That’s funny, because the takeaway I got from the trailer when I saw it in the theater some months ago was exactly that. It seemed like they were going for the idea that she was off her rocker, and Cruise was crazy and violent too,”

    Heh–I thought for sure the whole “he’s a crazy spy; she’s helpless gurl” thing was a cover for the fact they both are MR. AND MRS. SMITH-type spies who were setting a traitor up or something.

  • deering

    Oh, come to think of it, how did Katherine Heigl miss starring in this? Isn’t this kind of idiotic character right up her alley?

  • Jester

    @deering: I am told by another critic that I trust that they were trying to replicate Mr And Mrs Smith here, and failed.

    @MAJ: Given that you were wondering where the MaMS imitators were a few months back, I’m wondering if you agree with that.

  • MaryAnn

    @MAJ: Given that you were wondering where the MaMS imitators were a few months back, I’m wondering if you agree with that.

    If they were going for a *Mr. and Mrs. Smith* vibe, they got it even wronger. The key to that film is that the two killers are equals. It was sexy because she was as strong and competent as he was. There’s nothing sexy in female idiocy… or in a film that treats its characters like idiots. I bet Cameron Diaz could pull of the smart-sexy-competent Mrs Smith-like character, but she’s not allowed anywhere near that here.

  • drewryce

    Setting aside the female as idiot issues for just a moment, it sounds a though they missed the boat on a whole different potential great film.
    The “regular person gets involved by accident in a spy plot” theme has been a rich vein for romance/comedy/suspense for decades: The 39 Steps, North by Northwest, The Man with One Shoe, Charades, etc.
    The sex of the innocent civilian is interchangeable. Cary Grant is the innocent in North By Northwest (Piper Laurie is the operative) then Grant is the operative in Charades with Audrey Hepburn as the innocent.
    The twist in Mr and Mrs Smith was that they were both the operatives.
    In any variation, there is no fun if the innocent is an idiot. The audience indentifies with the smart innocent that is in over his/her head with survival and romance as the prize.
    BTY, re the characters name, wasn’t TROY Miller the producer of Dumb and Dumber?

  • bronxbee

    Cary Grant is the innocent in North By Northwest (Piper Laurie is the operative)…

    it was Eva Marie Saint, actually.

  • Rusty Broomhandle

    All these films remind me somewhat of Scarecrow and Mrs. King, the 80s TV show.

    Actually, that would make a better movie.

  • MaryAnn

    The sex of the innocent civilian is interchangeable.

    Theoretically, yes. But in practice, what happens is that when the innocent is not an idiot, the innocent is a man. (See also: *The 39 Steps.*)

  • Jane Greer plays the most innocent character in The Big Steal. She demonstrates several times during the movie that she is most definitely not an idiot. But that movie was made long ago and times were different then.

    Come to think of it, Joan Wilder in Romancing the Stone is pretty innocent. And yet she demonstrates several ti–Oh, never mind.

  • drewryce

    I should have said “the sex of the innocent CAN be interchangeable”. (and yes Eva Marie Saint, head slap ‘duh’, sorry).
    It should happen more often. It works well. Take “Tequila Sunrise” as an example (not a spy film but still the female chef is a highly competent innocent pulled into the on going two nations government drug and crime conspiracy).

    One writer that “gets” the concept of females as competent individuals that can triumph over their circumstances is Elmore Leonard. Without going into the superhero hyper regions, his women characters, with some frequency, rescue their men and kill the bad guys (The Hot Kid, Glitz, Cat Chaser, Kill Shot). Unfortunatly, his vision is usually lost in the film process.
    Example, compare the film ending to the book ending in “Out of Sight”. In the book, Karen Cisco having shot her bank robber lover Jack Foley in the leg thereby sending him back to a life time prison term does the following:

    She sat on the step and carfully, gently, lifted his ski mask and looked at his sad eyes. “Sorry Jack, but I can’t shoot you.”
    “You just did for Christs sake.”
    “You know what I mean.”
    She said, “I want you to know that I think you’re a cool guy. I never for a minute felt that you were too old for me.” She said,” I’m afraid though, that thirty years from now I’ll feel differently about it. I’m sorry jack, I really am.”
    The poor guy, he looked like he was in pain.

  • rick

    Love your reviews, as usual.

    The good news is that I won free tickets to see this movie. The bad news is that I still had to pay for $8 popcorn and $4 soft drinks.

    My observations:

    – Another movie where actors and actresses try to play characters that are 10 to 15 years younger than they are in real life.
    – This movie has a high CPU (audience cell phone usage). A lot of people checking their e-mails during a movie is never a good sign for a movie.
    – I can make better CGI on my laptop.
    – Another secret government plot.
    – Another device that doesn’t exist in real life.
    – Magically, a female character who has never fired a gun can suddenly fire one like a professional.
    – Tom Cruise suffers from the dreaded disease where hair gets darker and thicker as he gets older.
    – It’s one helluva body count for a PG-13 movie.
    – Cameron Diaz must have a clause in her contract that pays her extra for each scream.

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