There's a scene near the beginning of James Mangold's Knight and Day when a scarecrow hits the windscreen of a jet, betraying the movie's true heritage as another eighties retread, like The A-Team and The Karate Kid (2010).
"The Scarecrow and Mrs. King," if you remember it, starred Bruce Boxleitner and Kate Jackson as secret agents, Boxleitner, codename Scarecrow, in the field, and Mrs. King drawn in through happenstance, and moonlighting with the Agency while raising two kids, the perfect cover. (You can even get "King" out of "Knight.") This film could be the origin story of that show, which, in itself, already referenced greats like The Thin Man films, or Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief, and so does this movie, sometimes interestingly.
Knight and Day is about as likable as that show, indeed, it's hard to hate, but that doesn't mean it reaches the level of a successful film in its own right. There are a few factors which keep holding it down, though we keep sensing the faint pulse of a much better movie beating somewhere beneath.
Goldface, Il Fantastico Superman secret agent Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) meets cute with classic car restorer June Havens (Cameron Diaz) on her way home for her sister's wedding. But not too cute, he's undercover. That's blown, of course, when it turns out that he has to execute everyone on the flight but her, crash-land the plane in a cornfield, and flee, giving her ridiculous instructions for handling the aftermath of the incident and improbably leaving her asleep in her own bed with sticky notes everywhere.
It's easy to go along with the set-up. It's funny, if a bit stupid, and Cruise and Diaz do their best, managing to sell the emotions well enough for a while and engage in some witty banter. Did I mention how likable they are? The film also plays off of Tom Cruise's, shall we say, unique public image as a kind of nutty guy, by embracing nuttiness and ridiculousness for Miller.
One of the biggest problems is Diaz's character, however. It's not in how she plays it. There just don't seem to be a few scenes or notes for her character which would make her development work. Instead, she's one of these crazy movie people who not only get Stockholm Syndrome when kidnapped repeatedly, but get good at the secret agent stuff with no training or much plausible motivation. Then she really goes nuts, which is fine, but not as cute or grounded as it should be to really connect.
Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Marc Blucas and Celia Weston, a top-flight supporting cast, add some atmosphere, but are featured in a miniscule way. Ultimately it doesn't matter what they do.
The film has some moments which are truly elegant and which really do seem to work for the characters and the story. Some of the action is choreographed well, with subtlety and meaning, and is interesting. A couple of fade in and out montages stick out as particularly admirable, along with most of the action sequences in the first half. The second half falls apart, though, including a chase through the running of the bulls, which is bull. It looks like it was designed on a computer, and then they forgot how people would look at it, completely forgot to render the details. It's like a short, boring insert of unfinished effects from some other movie.
Knight and Day starts strong, but falls apart with lackluster effects, plot developments and a general surrender to dull and comfortable predictability. It's an inoffensive, inconsequential romp and probably wouldn't overly burden a good date or disappoint much if you're looking for a brainless action ride, but if you miss it you won't miss much. It could have been likable and fun, but tries so hard to be likable it's not very fun. Why's it called Knight and Day? Heck if I know. Okay, okay, I know, it's just not a very good title, not a very good movie.
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