The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Knight and Day
Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise take a holiday.

Making a good over-the-top action movie is harder than it seems. The film has to let us know that it isn't taking itself seriously, yet there's a point at which the action can become a little too outrageous. The A-Team is a summer movie that, for me, got the formula all wrong; Knight and Day gets it a bit more right. While the picture won't win any awards, I found it to be a lot of fun.

Cameron Diaz plays June Havens, a woman who innocently boards an airplane and chats up a stranger she met in the terminal. He is Roy Miller (Tom Cruise), a charming guy with a bright smile and a penchant for saying all the right things to make June's heart flutter. Roy is not what he seems. Before the flight is over, he's killed several people, including the pilots. He crash lands the plane in a field, then explains to June that he's actually a CIA agent trying to prevent an important invention from falling into the wrong hands. She just happened to stumble into the middle of his mission.

Another agent, Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard), then shows up and tells June that Roy is a delusional rogue agent, putting on a front to hide his own evil plans. She doesn't know whom to believe, but Roy keeps popping up, snatching her from Fitzgerald and his team, and whisking her away to "safety" (often by drugging her first). At least he has the decency to whisk her away to a tropical paradise at one point.

I have done a hideous job describing this movie's plot. Truth be told, it's a tough flick to explain. Yes, there's a story and a MacGuffin (Hitchcock's term for the thing that sets a plot in motion), but Knight and Day isn't really about either of those things. Instead, director James Mangold (Walk the Line) and his team of both credited and un-credited screenwriters are more interested in a concept: the film is ultimately about June, who meets a guy who promises adventure, only to deliver it on a more literal level than she could ever have expected.

For this reason, casting was key, and Cameron Diaz is an inspired choice. She's likable and funny, with inherent street smarts. These qualities make June more than just a screaming ninny; she's a woman who, at some level, is deeply excited by the danger her potential new beau brings with him. He brings out the feistiness that's buried inside her. One of the funniest scenes finds the drugged June waking up on a tropical island, wearing a swimsuit. Within seconds, she turns the tables on the fearless super-spy, intimidating him with her demands to know where she is and how he could possibly have changed her clothing without seeing her completely naked. Poor Roy can only stammer.

I really like the Tom Cruise we get in Knight and Day. He doesn't do comedy all that often, but when he does, it's usually a treat. As Roy, Cruise has fun with his own image as an action hero, satirizing the suave self-confidence that many of his characters have exuded. At one point, June is tied to a chair while Roy dangles by his feet from a cord a few inches away. "I know this doesn't look good," he tells her with a smile on his face, "but I've got this. We'll be out of here in a few minutes." Cruise really pulls this off well, and he's got enjoyable chemistry with Diaz.

Now, back to those action scenes that I mentioned at the top. There's a car chase on a crowded freeway, with Roy performing all kinds of acrobatics as the vehicles race at top speeds. Roy and June outrun missile-shooting aircraft in another sequence. Most impressive of all is a motorcycle chase through the streets of Spain, set against the backdrop of the Running of the Bulls. The film winks at you with the knowledge that the characters are defying the laws of physics, yet the scenes are comprised of enough obviously real stunts (several performed by the stars themselves) to give the audience a genuine thrill. To me, that's what makes the difference. It's not just ridiculous action; there's actual stunt driving, free falling, and hand-to-hand brawling to ground things somewhat.

Knight and Day is not a great escapist film. The story admittedly meanders. Some secondary characters aren't developed as strongly as they might have been. I also think the picture could have played up June's comic incredulity at her predicament, a la Alan Arkin in The In-Laws. While those flaws are legit, they didn't sap the fun too much. Knight and Day works due to the charms of Diaz and Cruise, and it figures out how to exaggerate action without making the audience feel insulted. I had a good time watching it.

( out of four)

Knight and Day is rated PG-13 for sequences of action violence throughout, and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.