Thursday, 12 August 2010

Knight and Day; time for Tom to dust off the DA suit

I was listening to a movie on TV the other day and heard Diane Keaton say that in Hollywood there are only three ages of woman, Barbie, the DA and Driving Miss Daisy. Something similar may be true of a man who's usually content to lead with his capped teeth and designer sunglasses. It might just be time for Tom Cruise to face up to middle age while he can still pull off the shift with a bit of dignity.

Knight and Day was not a movie which had to make a lot of sense in order to entertain me. It more or less had my attention with the trailer, which featured the best stupid line of 2010; Tom Cruise bellowing "No-one follow us, or I'll shoot myself and then her." I was slightly worried that this might turn out to the best line in the movie; what I hadn't quite planned for was that they squeezed more or less all the good stuff in the movie into the trailer. So this week's top tip; don't go and see Knight and Day, just watch the trailer when it's in front of some other movie, and imagine that they made another eighty or so minutes about as good. Because you'll have to imagine it; they didn't have whatever it was they needed to make a proper movie.

I don't know what was in short supply, exactly. They had all the explodium Michael Bay wasn't using, they had Tom Cruise, they had Cameron Diaz, they seem to have had an unlimited budget for location work. They even had a couple of unexpected ringers; the ever reliable Peter Sarsgard is playing the main antagonist, and Paul Dano, the foolishly brave young actor who took on Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood, is hiding behind a straggly goatee as the human half of the mcguffin. So most of what they needed was there. Oh, yeah, it's happened again. They forgot to hire some writers.

I just went and looked it up. They hired a writer with no previous writing credits of any importance. Yes, that will work out fine. That certainly explains where James Mangold, the director, started to go wrong. Mangold did quite a good Johnny Cash biopic, where he had the handy edge of having a plot blocked in for him by real life, and a respectable, though ultimately wrong headed, adaptation of3.10 to Yuma which did fine off the back of an Elmore Leonard plot until it fell apart in the final act. So, that's why Knight and Day is not so much a movie and more a string of stuff that happens for no particular reason.

Parts of it are huge fun; there's a chase scene on the freeway around Boston which has the courage of its own ridiculousness, and is consequently highly enjoyable. Not a single thing that happens in the whole sequence makes a button of sense or comes remotely close to plausible, but that's the best way to go sometimes.

Sadly, most of the good stuff is, as I said earlier, flagged in the trailer. There's a big setpiece at the end where Tom and Cameron get a motorbike and three Smart Cars mixed up in a bull fight in Sevilla. Every single good shot in the setpiece shows up in the trailer, and the whole scene plays in sadly perfunctory fashion. Of course, I was never going to be pleased unless the Smart Cars dominated the whole scene, and indeed preferably the movie, but I don't think anyone else, not even the Sevilla tourist board, is going to be that impressed.

There's weird headscratching stuff to puzzle about . The title is never explained; it seems like Cruise's character's real name is Knight, but why throw the "Day" in there? What's that for? Cruise's character is called Roy Miller for most of the movie, which is also the name of Matt Damon's character in Green Zone. Was there a reason for this?

There's a bold approach to continuity which would have worked even better if they'd really run with it; every time Cruise and Diaz get in over their heads, Cruise drugs Diaz and they gloss over the get away by having her fading in and out of a drug induced stupor while fragments of the action do absolutely nothing to explain how Cruise gets them out of it. This is actually sort of genius, and they should have done far more of it. As long as you're not making sense, you've got to make no sense at all, is my view on the thing.

Weirdly, Cruise's take on his superspy character is a nice one; sure he's incredibly violent and competent and - going by how much money he seems to have access to - somewhat corrupt, but there's a wonderful earnestness to all his scenes with ordinary people as he tries hard to be likeable and to be positive and constructive in life or death situations. It's not just funny; in a weird way it rings true. You could imagine a successful super spy being successful just because he always tried to make things easy for people.

All in all, it's a fun little time passer, but it's not what I suspect anyone involved was hoping for. This summer's big dumb fun blockbuster is still out of reach.

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