Friday 6 August 2010

Knight and Day review

Knight and Day (12A, 109 mins)
Director: James Mangold
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Tom Cruise’s critical and commercial reputation has taken a battering in recent weeks, ever since the thoroughly underwhelming performance at the US box office of Knight and Day, his new action romp.

The question of whether the star wattage of the one-time top dog in Hollywood is still at full power has come up repeatedly, even more so when you consider that the project he left to do this instead, Salt, has turned out to be quite the hit for Angelina Jolie.

But it’s possible that too much shouldn’t be read into it because Cruise and his co-star here, Cameron Diaz, are actually on fairly decent form, and Knight and Day would probably be just as lacklustre and uninspired whomever its stars were.

Cruise plays Roy Miller, who meets Diaz’s June when they get on the same strangely quiet flight. As they chat it looks like we’re heading for standard rom-com territory, but suddenly Roy has killed everyone on the plane and they’re on the run.

He’s being tracked by the FBI, who would have June believe that he’s a rogue agent, while Roy claims they’ve set him up, and amid all the chases and shoot outs, June has to decide whether he’s a psycho or the good guy. The answer to that question is never in much doubt, although we have to plod though an awful lot of plot developments that don’t make much sense to get to that point.

It’s that clumsy plotting that holds back this spy caper of would-be frothiness. With its Hitchcock style setup, Bond trappings and 21st century pyrotechnics, everything is in place to make it work, from its exotic locales (Austria, Spain) to a MacGuffin that’s being sought by bad guys pretending to be good guys, as well as actual bad guys.

And yet it never takes off, though it continually threatens to before stalling again. A deliberately slow start looks like it’s going to ease us gently into the mayhem to follow, but in fact it could be accused of lethargy. It’s frustrating that it just never zips as much as it ought to and flashes of entertainment fail to compensate for the overall sluggishness.

The action beats do crop up at regular intervals and they’re distracting enough, mostly consisting of car chases enhanced by buckets of special effects. But the problem with such carefree use of CGI is that, although it allows filmmakers to do things that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, it’s immediately obvious that what you’re watching isn’t actually real.

At best it takes the weight and momentum out of a scene and any sense of danger, at worst it looks like a cartoon. It’s no coincidence that the very best movie chases (The French Connection, Mad Max and the rest) were done with no trickery whatsoever.

The stars do their best to keep it on the rails and it’s they alone that stop Knight and Day from being a total snooze. Cruise does nutty quite well and Diaz is feisty and perky, apart from when June consistently and irritatingly does very stupid things just to further the plot.

But while they're an agreeable pairing, it doesn’t really generate the expected, or necessary, laughs. Sad to say, their appearance on Top Gear the other week was a good deal more fun than this.

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