REVIEW: Robotic Tom Cruise Weighs Down Knight and Day
Tom Cruise is no longer cool, a truth he just can't face -- if he could, he'd be cooler. In the opening moments of Knight and Day, Cruise strides through an airport in a uniform of coolness that may as well have been assembled from a checklist: Distinctive Persol sunglasses, an obviously cashmere V-neck sweater layered over a surely-not-Hanes T-shirt, a Baracuta jacket -- I'm only checking off the brand names the same way he and his costume department must have. The ringtone on his character's phone is "Louie, Louie." And he actually does some of his own stunts, just to show he can. Cruise really may be the hardest-working man in show business right now, but on him (in direct contrast to James Brown), all that sweat just isn't cool. Once coolness leaves you, how do you get it back?
As big a box-office draw as Cruise may have been in days of yore, he was never truly cool; he has always tried too hard. The more frightening reality, as posed by the ambitious but unsatisfying spy caper Knight and Day, is that he will never, ever go away. Cruise plays a guy named Roy Miller, blandly named for a reason: He is -- ssssshhh! -- a top superspy, trained by the government to slink around airports in dark glasses and the same brand of jacket Steve McQueen and James Dean wore. At one of those airports he -- wink, wink! -- bumps into a gangly-sexy vintage-auto mechanic with a carry-on suitcase full of precious car parts. Her name is June, and she's hauling some hard-to-find scrap from Kansas home to Boston, to refurbish her late father's '66 GTO as a wedding present for her ingrate younger sister (Maggie Grace).
At first June is mysteriously barred from the flight she's ticketed for; then, at the last minute, the attendant lets her on. The mysterious Roy, it turns out, is on the same flight, and they flirt shamelessly, until some very weird stuff happens. June finally makes it back to Boston, only to realize that everywhere she turns, there is Roy: Ingratiating himself with her ex-boyfriend, fireman Rodney (Marc Blucas, using his corn-fed wholesomeness brilliantly) or showing up out of nowhere on a motorcycle to save her from a pickle she has no idea how she got into. Eventually, they're making moo-eyes at each other in Austria and outrunning bulls in Spain, all in connection with secret superspy Roy's supersecret mission, which has something to do with a catfishy-looking guy played by Paul Dano.
In between, Cruise's Roy engages in many feats of derring-do, leaping from rooftop to rooftop and executing crazy bike jumps. But the results are curiously unthrilling, and it's hard not to wonder what the picture would be like with another male star. Knight and Day, which was directed by James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line), has a few things going for it that shouldn't be underestimated: It's not a sequel, it's not based on a comic book or a runaway best-seller, and the script, credited to Patrick O'Neill, suggests that somewhere along the way, someone harbored a feeble hope for a picture with some wit and style. Knight and Day is at least an attempt at a languishing genre -- the spy caper with a sense of humor -- and unlike so many mainstream pictures these days, it actually tries to have a tone. Cruise's Roy keeps popping up in June's life in the damnedest places and in the damnedest ways: Mangold shows this via a cleverly edited soft-focus montage in which a drugged (for her own safety) June now and then opens her heavy eyelids to see Roy swinging upside down in a torture chamber, or flying some tiny, unsafe aircraft, or navigating a speedboat through choppy waters, all the while reassuring her that everything's cool.
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