Friday, June 25, 2010

Knight and Day

Knight and Day is everything the The A-Team failed to be. It’s an action comedy that is, oddly enough, both funny and exciting. It has characters and not broad types. It’s about movie stars having fun with each other. It has a ridiculous plot and knows how to use that to its personal advantage. It’s the sign of a promising director being able to play the big money game while still delivering a quality product. It has moments where the characters, between chases, shoot-outs and explosions actually get to talk, about things! Who would have thunk? And, most importantly it has action that is made up of stunts, bullets, squibs and explosions made from gas, heat and oxygen all coming together to complete a scientific triangle. Even towards the end, when there is an electrifying motorcycle chase down the streets of Spain, it looks remarkably like two people actually riding a motorcycle. You couldn’t ask for more. June (Cameron Diaz) meets Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) at the airport after they bump into each other twice. They then find themselves on the same flight. But something is strange about Roy. He’s being watched. On the plane, which is nearly empty, she has one too many tequila’s, chats Roy up, goes to the bathroom to compose herself, and exits to find everyone on the plane dead, including the pilots. At first she doesn’t notice and thinks Roy is joking with her when he tells her he is going to land the plane. Joke’s on her. On the ground Roy drugs June and before she passes out explains to her that some agents will probably come looking for her, saying that he is dangerous and deranged and they are there to protect her. He warns her not to trust them. She wakes up the next morning in a foggy daze, but whaddya know… Turns out Roy is in possession of a Maguffin known as the Zephyr, a battery of unlimited power that could, he helpfully explains, run a small city or a large submarine. It was created by a young scientist who Roy was put in charge of guarding along with his partner Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard) who wanted to sell the battery to a Spanish weapon’s dealer and walk off with a big payday. After Roy steals the battery and hides the kid from Fitzgerald, he is framed, deemed to have gone rouge and is being hunted not only by Fitzgerald but by the arms dealer as well. What results is a collection of high intensity action sequences as Roy tries to clear his name, find the kid, save June from her pursuers and take out Fitzgerald, all while having time to stop for a swim on a tropic island where he appears, shirtless, from the ocean, carrying a bundle of prize fish in one hand, not a spear or harpoon in sight. That my friends, is the kind of talent they don’t teach at any agency. The film is a flight of fancy that ultimately comes down to the chemistry of its stars. Cruise and Diaz are both likable, funny and smooth together. They exchange banter, trade one-liners, crack wise in each other's direction and maintain a flirty mystery throughout the entire film: they think they like each other, but both are too busy dodging bullets, cars, motorcycles, stampeding bulls, etc. for either of them to make a first move. Sometimes life is hard like that. Diaz once again proves herself a welcome comedic presence. She plays June as a girl both naive but intrigued by the world of violence she has entered. She has a sort of disconnected quality in her performance in which she is shocked and surprised by what is happening around her, leading to many of the film’s funniest moments, but also remains aware of her surroundings, excited by the possibility that adventure could lurk around any corner. Cruise, one of the few remaining movie stars that became so because of talent and versatility, does the right thing by playing the Miller character totally straight. He’s an action movie every man. When June is taken in by Fitzgerald he speeds by on a motorcycle, ramps it, lands on the hood of the SUV transporting June and takes out all the bad guys, but not before pausing to tell her how much he likes her dress and compliment her driving skills after being forced to take the wheel. Cruise as an action hero is cool and sophisticated but also delivers his lines as if he were a regular guy and these feats of ridiculousness are but a part of some daily routine. This off-handed approach gives the film a warmer, more human quality than a typical run-of-the-mill action picture and also allows the characters to develop believably during the down time between big stunts, deepening the story beyond a clothesline of endless action. Knight and Day is thus possibly the first true big entertainment of the summer. Where action movies seem to have gone the way of crowding human actors out with oodles of computer generated effects and shaky action sequences that are impossible to comprehend, it’s nice to see one in the traditional vein of big Hollywood excitement. It’s smooth and crisp, using stars to create likable personalities and only using computers when it needs to. Special effects were once thought of as a way to enhance reality not constitute for it and that’s the order of the day here, allowing James Mangold to create the feel of action that is actually happening, while also capturing every glorious detail of it in the process. Knight and Day may be a light-hearted experience but it’s a big step in the right direction.

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