KNIGHT AND DAY
starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Paul Dano, Peter Sarsgaard
screenplay by Patrick O'Neill
directed by James Mangold
starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider
screenplay by Adam Sandler & Fred Wolf
directed by Dennis Dugan
by Ian Pugh Knight and Day isn't really a movie so much as an amateur screenwriting exercise: the cardinal rule is maintaining momentum, and if that momentum should come at the ironic price of interest or excitement then so be it. It's true that lots of things happen in this movie--lots of car chases and stunts and rapid-fire dialogue and whiplash changes in scenery--and director James Mangold even has the decency to sometimes hold a shot for more than five seconds. But despite this flurry of activity, you never actually watch or experience the picture--you observe it, like an ant farm or a goldfish bowl, looking for some magical insight that simply isn't there. Knight and Day is cute, fluffy, feather-light, and utterly, instantly forgettable. Let's just cut to the chase and say that, should Tom Cruise ever propel himself back into the public consciousness, this ain't gonna be the way he does it.
Roy Miller (Cruise) is a CIA agent who goes rogue to protect a dorky inventor (Paul Dano) from a turncoat (Peter Sarsgaard, doing his best John Malkovich). Along the way, he acquires an unlikely sidekick in antique-car dealer (I think?!) June Havens (Cameron Diaz). Hero, heroine, villain, MacGuffin, all in a row. So how do these pieces fit together? Dunno. A series of subtle nods and visual cues suggests that it's trying to be a Cold War spy-thriller pastiche: the hapless, globetrotting civilian of North by Northwest; a desert island encounter that reminds of Honey Ryder's introduction in Dr. No; and a traincar fight that begs for the finesse of From Russia with Love. The problem is, there's nothing preventing these things from floating off into space. You wanna trade jokes while dodging bullets across Europe? Fine by me. But what's the hook? Why should I pay attention? Even Killers--very much the Roger Corman version of Knight and Day--managed to keep its premise on solid ground through a suburban backdrop.
If the filmmakers expected a couple of strong actors to pick up the slack, they should have known that Cruise and Diaz--two of the most self-conscious stars in Hollywood--weren't going to be the ones to do it. They don't banter, they recite from a script; they don't travel the world, they teleport between sets. It's a deadly proposition for the immersion a good action movie requires, although the worst thing about Knight and Day is that you can't talk about it without repeating yourself a hundred times over--comparing it unfavourably to better movies and recycling criticisms of other movies that are exactly like it. (Consider the title, changed twice before settling on something as generic as an '80s cop show.) It's not stupid or offensive, but it's only good enough. Good enough to kill two hours, good enough to fill up a dead weekend in June, and, with any luck, good enough to make you forget that there isn't much to anticipate until Christopher Nolan rolls out Inception. Knight and Day doesn't care--and for that reason alone, it may be the perfect movie to mark the midway point of this damned year for cinema.
Judging by the roman à clef that is Funny People, in which his alter ego held his own audience in contempt, Adam Sandler presumably doesn't give a shit, either. In Grown Ups, Sandler plays Lenny Feder, a talent agent who decides he's fucking up society by spoiling his children. So he sets out to teach everyone about how much better life was when he was twelve years old. Upon learning that his beloved junior basketball coach (Blake Clark) has died, Lenny rushes to the funeral, where he reunites with his former teammates--stay-at-home dad Kurt (Chris Rock), furniture salesman Eric (Kevin James), bachelor/pervert Marcus (David Spade), and new-age healer Rob (Rob Schneider)--and invites their families to vacation with his in the sticks. The lesson appears to be the importance of communication and togetherness, but good luck finding it amongst the parade of flatulent grandmas, pratfalling fat dudes, children too old for breastfeeding, and make-out sessions with elderly women. Of course, fans will defend Grown Ups with a familiar cry: What did you expect from a movie starring these five dudes? But they've been saying that for a long, long time, and the argument loses its charge as Sandler and co. reach their mid-forties.
Billy Madison and Tommy Boy were fifteen years ago, but Sandler and Spade are still playing the mumbling idiot and sarcastic asshole, respectively--only now we can see they've started pining for the good old days. What good old days, is what I'd like to know: the days of sociopathic heroes who screamed and farted their way to victory? When all that unfunny bullshit only serves to champion "Chutes & Ladders" over them damn kids and their violent videogames, don't expect much sympathy from me. It might be another insecure grasp at relevance from aging clowns à la Couples Retreat, but "when I was your age" doesn't carry much weight coming from people who built their empire on cultural decline. (There's also a curious sequence in which four of the men--and the camera--leer at Rob's hotsy-totsy daughter (Madison Riley) for a good thirty seconds before the script decides to move forward. Is it a reflection of the eye-rolling sexism that has long defined their movies, or of the fact that these family men can no longer play the romantic lead? Either way, it's pretty disturbing.*) This is hardly the worst movie any of these actors has made (Bedtime Stories alone lets Sandler and Schneider off the hook in that regard), but if there's anything less enticing than seeing them join forces, it's watching them slowly transform into nostalgic old men. Originally published: June 23, 2010.
*Did I mention that Rob has another daughter (Ashley Loren) who is deemed too ugly to touch? return