[Screen It]

(2010) (Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz) (PG-13)

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Action-Comedy: A highly skilled FBI operative, who may or may not have gone rogue, tries to keep his unwilling accomplice out of harm's way while hoping to prevent a lucrative, high-tech invention from falling into the wrong hands.
June Havens (CAMERON DIAZ) is on her way home to Boston for her sister's wedding when she runs into Roy Miller (TOM CRUISE) in the airport. He seems like a nice enough guy, but while she's in the lavatory during their flight, he fends off and kills the small number of passengers and entire flight crew that attack him. After he successfully lands the airliner out in a field, he warns her that others will come looking for her, state he's a rogue federal agent, and that her life is in danger.

She next wakes up at home, thinking it was all a bad dream until her ex-boyfriend and current Boston firefighter, Rodney (MARC BLUCAS), checks on her after hearing about the emergency landing. Roy then shows up again and the two go on the run -- he leading the way, she being the unwilling accomplice -- as he tries to protect Simon Feck (PAUL DANO) and his perpetual energy battery invention from falling into the wrong hands. The latter belong to Antonio (JORDI MOLLA), an international arms dealer, but also Roy's former FBI partner, Fitzgerald (PETER SARSGAARD), who tells their boss, Director Isabelle George (VIOLA DAVIS), that it's really Roy who's become the rogue agent.

As they flee and move from one country to another, Roy tries to protect June and assure her he's the only one who can protect her, all while she tries to keep from freaking out while figuring out if he's telling the truth or not.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
People go to the movies for a variety of reasons, but the biggest one is and always has been to escape from the everyday stress and/or doldrums that permeate their lives. True, the art house crowd often attends independent movies and documentaries for serious and/or cerebral fare, and Hollywood will occasionally release such flicks throughout the year, but usually more so during November and December, a.k.a. Oscar bait season.

The rest of the time it's pure escapism, be that as romantic or regular comedies, horror pics, sci-fi flicks and especially action movies. And the best time for such "turn off the brain and enjoy the ride" material is usually in the summer when people just want fun offerings. When done just right, such films can be highly entertaining. That is, as long as the sheer entertainment value can overcome any other deficiencies that often accompany escapist offerings such as -- Oh, I don't know - rampant plausibility issues?

Case in point is "Knight and Day," an action-comedy that somewhat looks like an imitator of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" by its commercials (with an attractive bit comically bickering couple kicking butt without breaking a sweat, throwing out their backs, and/or pulling a muscle or two). Yet, it's actually closer to "True Lies," "Romancing the Stone" or any number of other films where an unsuspecting and innocent woman finds herself unwillingly teamed with a highly trained or at least super capable man who's on some sort of peril-filled quest to deal with the bad guys.

The commercials are accurate, though, in demonstrating this is truly Hollywood escapism in its shiniest vehicle, with attractive stars (Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz), antagonistically comedic banter between them, and lots of hard-hitting action, stunts and various moments of daring-do. And speaking of escape, the film -- with screenwriter Patrick O'Neill at the keyboard and director James Mangold behind the lens -- offers plenty of that, not only in terms of an overall viewing experience, but also regarding plausibility (it flies out the window during the first action sequence and doesn't return) and actual plot points and related story elements.

In short, we see scene after scene of the attractive co-stars getting themselves into and then out of various pickles. For better or worse (viewer reaction will likely vary wildly), it's over the top in terms of believability (physics and such), yet also lazy regarding how the filmmakers maneuver themselves and their characters out of various perilous predicaments.

The choice du jour, it appears, is simply to have Cruise's federal agent character give Diaz's car restorer some sort of knock out agent so that it's easier for him to extradite both of them from some situation without having to explain, demonstrate or actually show how it's done. While there's obviously some tongue in cheek approach to all of that, it's the lazy and nearly childish way out of getting characters out of corners into which the filmmakers have painted them.

(My imagined view of the plot conversation as argued by kids: "I'm going to pummel your top-secret island with bombs and there's no escape." "Oh yeah? Well I've got a mini helicopter and we'll fly away." "How are you going to outrun my jet and missiles?" "Umm...It's a new helicopter that can turn invisible and fly backwards in time! So there!")

The result of all of that is we then don't worry about the characters or their plight. While it might be cute and/or humorous for Cruise's character to saunter through a hail of gunfire and emerge unscathed to plant a big kiss on Diaz's onscreen counterpart, or that they flee a bull run on their motorcycle, such material (and more like that) doesn't engage the viewer enough to make us care.

"Raiders of the Lost Ark" could nearly be viewed the same way (how did Indy ride that submarine so far from one locale to the next or escape the darts, huge boulder or other traps of the opening sequence, etc.?). But Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford knew exactly how to construct and play the character with just the right touches to fully engage us enough that we weren't bothered by and/or could overlook what otherwise would have been distracting implausibilities.

It's not that Cruise doesn't try to capture that same sort of magic, and he probably hasn't been this loose and fun on screen since "Jerry Maguire" (not counting the heavily disguised and extended cameo in "Tropic Thunder"). Even so, it feels a bit more calculated here, while the performance -- like the film -- is off just enough that it never quite kicks into full gear. Some of that may be due to public perception of Cruise's recent off-screen behavior (the term "wacky" is often bantered about in regards to various well-publicized events) and transferring that over to the character through simple association.

Diaz is okay in her unwilling (and, natch, completely unbelievable) accomplice role, but comparisons to Jamie Lee Curtis in "True Lies" are likely unavoidable (especially when both films feature lots of wide-eyed expressions, an out of control machine gun wildly firing, and some rise to the occasion heroics). Of course, Mangold is no James Cameron in terms of mounting and then executing action sequences (although his "3:10 to Yuma" remake was decent), and that 1994 film had the fun advantage of marital issues and such thrown into the mix.

That said, the chemistry between the leads is decent enough that it doesn't feel totally fabricated. The plot, on the other hand, is really just an osteoporosis-riddled skeleton on which the action sequences (feeling lifted from the above films, the likes of "North By Northwest" and just about any Bond flick that jumps from one exotic locale to the next) are hung.

It really doesn't make any difference that Paul Dano is some sort of young energy expert who's created a battery that will keep going long after the Energizer bunny has gone still, or that Peter Sarsgaard is wasted as a federal agent who may or may not be bad (the "misdirection" regarding him simply doesn't work), while Viola Davis as his boss or Jordi Molla as an arms dealer villain make little to no impression

I really wanted to like "Knight and Day" simply as an over-the-top, super-charged bit of cinematic escapism. And it does have its occasional moments. Too much of it, however, stretches credibility too far -- yes, even for a film designed to do just that -- and thus feels like the filmmakers took the easy way out and/or didn't have what it takes to make a smart, mindless movie. The film rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 17, 2010 / Posted June 23, 2010

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