Hollywood Shows the Strain

Cruise and Diaz offer escapist rubbish

James Mangold (Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma) pawns off his direction credentials to this spastic piece of celebrity eye-candy action drivel. Actor-turned-first-time screenwriter Patrick O’Neill pieces together a series of shoot-’em-up computer-generated chase scenes that exist as inert bubbles of characterless plot-points in a sea of vacuous narrative foam.

Cameron Diaz (the actress who contaminated Scorsese’s Gangs of New York) plays June Havens, an implausible muscle-car mechanic living in Boston. Her ex-boyfriend Rodney (Marc Blucas) still has the hots for her. To June’s dimwitted surprise, she gets wrapped up with CIA counter spy Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) when Roy slips a MacGuffin into her luggage before the two board the same flight. Once in the air, Roy dispatches everyone on the plane—pilots included—while she fixes her makeup in the restroom. One crash-landing later, Roy and June adopt each other as vaguely romantic counterparts on a mission to upset the peace of a desert island, a public bull run in Spain and elegant backstreets in Austria.

Closer in tone to the recent Mr. and Mrs. Smith knock-off Killers than the suave and superbad Bourne Identity thriller that it imagines lurks within, Knight and Day is a shell of a movie. Cruise might look better than most 47-year-old movie stars, and Diaz isn’t exactly hard on the eyes, but you need more than looks to keep an audience’s attention.

Big changes are afoot in Hollywood: 2010 is shaping up to be the worst year for big-budget motion pictures for as far back as you can remember. Although it was received with mixed reviews when it was released in February, Paramount’s Shutter Island stands out as the best movie to come out of La La Land this year. Nearly all the big studios’ independent boutiques have shuttered, save for Fox Searchlight. Foreign gems such as The Secret in Their Eyes and A Prophet arrive, along with the occasional inspired documentary, as welcome buffers to H’Wood’s ever inferior stream of predictably lacking romantic comedies, sequels, remakes, comic book spectacles and lame attempts at television show prop-ups such as Sex and the City 2 and MacGruber.

Everyone in the entertainment business is worried, and it shows on the big screen. With no regulations yet put in place against Wall Street after its last take-everything spree, money moguls are once again poised to pull another calculated steal that will drive the country and the global economy into an unstoppable freefall. States such as New York are set to go bankrupt, and we go to the movies to see how much better Cruise is doing than everyone else.

Big-budget films such as Knight and Day represent a distracted effort at giving audiences something to momentarily capture our imaginations and allow us to forget about everyone we know losing their jobs and homes. What we get is a feigned attempt at tongue-in-cheek post-modern humor, as when Roy kidnaps June during a dinner conversation with her ex-boyfriend. Super spy Roy has a habit of drugging June for 18 hours at a time while he spirits off to unknown places. These head-bonk segues allow for some disorienting perspective shifts that perhaps mirror all too closely America’s weakened grasp on Halliburton-bent reality. Knight and Day has the adverse effect of reminding you that you are having the wool pulled over your eyes to distract you from the film’s utter lack of objectives, much less a thematic message of any substance.

As Roy advises June, “Whenever someone tells you repeatedly that you are safe, it’s the opposite, you are in fact in danger of losing your freedom indefinitely.” That’s the big idea Knight and Day carries like a virus while you watch the wild car chases with the pretty actors. You’re not safe.

Knight and Day (PG-13) ☆☆☆☆☆