With Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis, Marc Blucas. Directed by James Mangold. Rated PG-13 for sequences of action violence throughout, and brief strong language. 110 minutes.
KNIGHT AND DAY is a light comedy thriller that clearly aspires to be in style of Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” or even a Hitchcock pastiche like “Charade.” That it falls short makes it clear that director James Mangold and screenwriter Patrick O’Neal weren’t paying careful enough attention. The result is lightweight fluff, entertaining enough if all you demand is to be distracted while you enjoy the air conditioning.
They clearly get the concept of the “Maguffin,” Hitchcock’s term for the thing everyone in the movie is chasing which we can safely ignore. Here it’s some sort of battery which emits tremendous power without running out. It’s the excuse for the good guys and bad guys to go at it, nothing more, and needn’t concern us any more than it did the filmmakers.
Where they go wrong is failing to come up with something we can care about during the nearly two hour running time. June Havens (Cameron Diaz) is trying to get back to Boston for her sister’s wedding but keeps bumping into Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) who clearly isn’t what he appears to be. They end up on a nearly deserted flight, and in the one truly inspired moment of the film, June heads to the rest room to freshen up and decide whether to flirt with Roy, while Roy is battling everyone else on the plane.
This sets up what ought to be the spine of the story. Can June trust Roy and show, in return, that she is reliable? We’re not exactly talking Bergman territory here. However while played by two talented stars who are, unquestionably, two of the most attractive people in the movies today, Roy and June are simply ciphers. We get a few details of their respective lives, but nothing that actually makes us believe either character is anything more than a persona the star is lightly wearing.
Thus when Roy administers knockout drugs to June not once but twice, this ought to raise serious questions about his trustworthiness. Instead, it’s little more than a set up for a similar “joke” later in the film. Both Cruise and Diaz are so much better than this, but instead they are merely cartoon figures rushing from Boston to Austria to Spain as the plot requires. Peter Sarsgaard pops up as a government agent who claims that Roy has gone rogue which ought to make the issues here far more complicated. Instead it’s like watching someone with arthritis attempt to fool you with a three card monte scam. Everything is so labored and obvious that we’re left admiring the scenery, including the two stars.
The chases and fight scenes are fine, or would be if something was actually at stake. However since our heroes are simply pretty cardboard cutouts, we simply wait for everything to finally come together. It does, after a fashion, but in as awkward a way as possible. “Knight and Day” disappoints because it should have been much better. Instead of a comic thriller with some depth, it is as lightweight as a soap bubble, and just as likely to pop.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.