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.