The first few minutes of James Mangold’s “Knight and Day” are packed with interesting dialogue, a literate script bordering on the philosophical, simmering sexual tension, and masterful character development.
June Havens (Cameron Diaz), a clumsy if not oafish car mechanic about to board a flight from Wichita to Boston where she plans to attend her sister’s wedding, bumps into handsome fellow passenger Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) at the departure gate minutes before takeoff.
On the mysteriously vacated commercial airliner, she feels drawn to Miller’s sexy school boy looks, unsuspecting that he is a rogue government agent on the lam attempting to smuggle a highly-classified perpetual energy battery (Zephyr) which could redefine global power production.
Slightly tipsy from onboard Tequila, and unable to comprehend her nearly uninhibited physical urges for Miller, she retreats to the lavatory for some composure.
Meanwhile, Miller successfully kills half a dozen government assassins posing as passengers and crew, including the two pilots, on the airliner.
But by the time Havens comes out of the lavatory, the rest of the film quickly plummets through a transcontinental stream of plot and characterization holes that simply cannot be saved by Cruise’s million dollar self-propelled smile or Diaz’s “Something About Mary” giggle.
There is almost nothing genuine about this film’s convoluted and improbable storytelling. The narrative, pitting Havens and Miller as an unlikely duo trying to save the Zephyr’s inventor and keep the hand-held device out of the reach of foreign arms dealers, might as well have been rehashed from a myriad of Bond flicks.
It is a bit disconcerting that top entertainers such as Cruise and Diaz would lend their celebrity to this blandness marketed to such an epic scale.
Director James Mangold (“Walk the Line,” “3:10 to Yuma”) tries to resuscitate the flatlining film by drawing on every action/chase cliché since “The French Connection.” But we’ve seen all these before; there’s hardly anything thrilling in seeing yet another car driven into oncoming traffic.
In fact, one car chase stunt early on in the film is almost certainly recreated from the first “Mission: Impossible” film, while a gun battle in an abandoned warehouse is eerily reminiscent of that other rogue spy film, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”
When not trapezing from rooftop to rooftop in Salzburg, Austria; the film offers up an insufferable number of phlegmatic jokes that are as fresh as two-week old rye. I mustered a nervous chuckle a grand total of three-and-a-half times.
The film’s subplots also defy logic with equally dizzying aplomb. The FBI pursues Miller from the American heartland to the mazes of Old Europe for fear that he could sell the Zephyr to a Spanish arms dealer. The viewer is left wondering why the NSA or CIA (or even the A-Team) are not brought in to help with what has become an international manhunt. And why aren’t the Chinese or the Russians after this incredible device? It just doesn’t add up.
Miller also repeatedly drugs Havens every time the two are cornered. She slips in and out of consciousness, perhaps in allegory to the film drifting from the ludicrous to the absurd, and an obvious admission of the script’s inability to accommodate alternating settings and interchangeable subplots.
Simon Feck (Paul Dano from “There Will Be Blood”), the genius teen who created the Zephyr, is surprisingly shallow and inane. In the limited dialogue he is given in the film, he enunciates with the heavy-tongued goofiness of a teenager on amphetamines.
Although “Knight and Day” fails on every level, there is a glimmer of hope that it could work as a Roy Miller parody of Tom Cruise playing Ethan Hunt in the “Mission: Impossible” films. Or, alternatively, as a tourism promotion reel for Salzburg and Seville.
Good night, Tom, your attempt to scale the throne of ludicrous Hollywood film-making is about to be Eclipsed by the third installment of teen hormone-fest “Twilight.”