6/28/10

"Knight and Day" - Why I Liked It and Why I'm NOT Sorry

I’ve read almost universally bad reviews for, “Knight and Day” and I read most of them before I saw the movie on Saturday night with Jake. I don’t usually read reviews of a movie before I see it, because I don’t want my personal opinions to be tainted. In this case, they might’ve been, because I went into the movie with hyper-low expectations because of all the bad reviews. That may have played a hand, because I actually really enjoyed the movie.

Which in the world of most critics will mean that I’m a sell-out and have no taste whatsoever, but I’m getting to the age where I don’t care anymore. I like what I like, I hate what I hate, and I’ll tell you why. But no apologies anymore. I hated, “Sex and the City”, “Couples Retreat” and lots of other movies. So I’m not a studio plant and I don’t “love everything”, as I get accused of so often when I admit liking a movie that bombs with other critics from my community. So, defense over, now I want to talk about the movie.

For starters, “Knight and Day” did a lot of things very right. To begin with, the casting. We all think Tom Cruise is a little bit crazy in real life and whether you believe any of the hype or not, whether that's fair or not, that’s what the accepted public image of him has become. "Scientologist weirdo, angry man at large." But here’s the thing about actors. They’re acting and their personal beliefs shouldn't be a factor. So whatever you think of them in reality, you have to be able to let that go at the theater. Sometimes you can’t, and I understand that. It's a problem that's plagued Woody Allen lovers for decades now. But I felt like this movie, for the first time in years and years, made me like Tom Cruise onscreen again. Made me forget that he’s said some down right bizarre things pertaining to his secret religion and just allowed me to watch the movie...

Okay, maybe I won’t ever be able to truly forget, but for the first time in a long time, I didn’t care anymore. Here, Cruise plays a wacky, at times out of control spy. By embracing some of the stereotypes he has come to represent in a movie, he’s saying, “I’m in on the joke, I get it, I have come across as crazy and neurotic, so I’ll really give you crazy and neurotic onscreen.” It’s the best move he could’ve possibly made and I haven’t enjoyed him as an actor this much in many many moons.

It was also fun to watch him have fun. Some of his roles over the years have been uber-serious, and that kind of intensity gets old quickly. Here, there’s a lightness to his character. He gets to smile occasionally, relax, and enjoy himself. He plays a spy not terribly bogged down by his job a la Daniel Craig in the new Bonds, but a spy who is good at what he does and enjoys himself. For me, if my lead characters can’t relax, I can’t relax. They’re the clues to audience members about what level of intensity we should be feeling. It’s why, “War of the Worlds” is such an intense movie to watch, but it’s also not very fun in the re-watch department for the same reason. I don’t want to feel that kind of suspense and panic very often. I save it for, “Memphis Belle” and Hitchcock movies or supernatural thrillers like the original, “The Haunting”. So my shelf space is limited for unpleasant films even though I love the suspense genre.

Cameron Diaz is also perfectly cast as the neurotic female lead. She’s also become well known for her high-strung roles (My Best Friend’s Wedding, Vanilla Sky) and here she’s given the chance to use that same squealing and panicking for laughs skill frequently.
One of the greatest complaints about the film is that there is a device used to take us from scene to scene wherein Cameron Diaz’s character is drugged, meaning we miss out on some of the action of how they get from point A to point B. This is driving people nuts. I’m the girl who lost her mind over missing LOST details, so you would think it would bother me too. But it didn’t. In fact, more often than not, it’s used to comedic effect, almost as a genre parody device. Also, in this movie, I don’t feel that I need to see every little detail. It’s not a thriller where we’re trained to pay attention to every nuance, we don’t miss any vital details in these moments, and quite frankly, it’s nothing movies don’t do all the time with “cross fades” and “fades to black” or “Lucas wipes” anyway. I don’t know if it’s making people claustrophobic or what, but I thought it was a clever way to get from scene to scene and didn’t bother me a bit.

As a feminist, it would’ve bothered me for its potential date-rape allusions, but after the first time, Diaz’s character asks to be drugged. So that pretty much solved my problem of her having her free will taken away. As I recall, it only happens three times anyway. Not that bad really, and they were well-spaced out. There's also a conclusion to the whole drugging thing that will bring closure to any one that still finds it troublesome.

Other complaints have been lack of clarity on the plot. I thought that the plot was the most simple and easy to understand that I’ve seen in a while. There were no tricks and no red herrings. Everything is explained, almost from the very beginning. In fact, that’s what makes Cruise’s character seem a little nuts. He’s always explaining himself, so much so that Diaz’s character thinks he’s kidding. Maybe we’re so used to twists and turns in the plot that we’re forgetting to pay attention when a character is explaining something, assuming that everything is just there, once again, as a red herring. (Again, I admit to having a LOST shaped chip on my shoulder.)

I’ve even heard the complaint that the title makes no sense because the Knight refers to Cruise’s character directly, but there’s no character named “Day”. Really? You have to have it served to you that directly on a silver platter? Ever heard the phrase, “They’re as different as night and day.”? It’s a play on that phrase, and it still makes sense, on multiple levels (referring even to the disparity between Cruise’s past and present).

The best thing about, “Knight and Day” for me, was the escapism. Beautiful locations shot well with some great action set-pieces. The definition of a fun summer popcorn movie. It took me back to the summer of my freshman year in high school and seeing, "Mission: Impossible". Although I do have one gripe about that. The preview, as per today’s usual, really ruins some of the best moments in the film. Because of the preview, I knew what the culminating set piece was going to be in every location, which was deeply frustrating. Just once I want to go to the movies and not be able to predict what’s going to happen in a scene, often the best scenes, because the preview ruined it for me.

I’d love to see previews start to hearken back to the older days where they might just contain a snippet of a scene and some narration. Whatever happened to enticing people with mystery? I HATED knowing that Diaz was going to flip around and shoot guns from the motorcycle or that the peaceful island scene would end with bombs being dropped. Because then I just found myself waiting for those cues from the preview instead of just watching and relaxing. Maybe this is the complaint of a neurotic movie viewer, but does anyone else agree with me?

Other things I enjoyed, the pacing of the movie was good. We speed through moments that we don’t need to see, but do need to know are happening. A wedding, in one instance. There were elements of this movie that reminded me of (Just because I am about to refer to classic movies does not mean that I am saying, “Knight and Day” is as good as they are, so just chill before you start ranting at me for it.) “North by Northwest” in the sense that it’s the chase that we want to see, not the complete details of how it’s working. We’re with Diaz as our main character, and when she’s clueless, so are we most of the time, making her the Cary Grant. It’s about going on the journey with her, not being a member of a, “Mission: Impossible” or, “Ocean’s Eleven” team that knows all the secrets.

The closest movie that I can compare this to genre-wise is, “Romancing the Stone”, another adventure/road movie. We just want to see these two characters thrown together by fate and dealing with whatever happens to them. It has that kind of excitement, though I don’t know that anyone could touch Turner and Douglas in the chemistry department.

This movie avoided the huge mistakes made by the Julia Roberts/Brad Pitt movie, “The Mexican” in which the two A-list leads were kept apart for almost the entire movie. Here we get to see Diaz and Cruise together plenty and they play off of each other well. Again, I have forgotten over the years that Cruise can indeed be funny (One may recall this video made for the MTV movie awards several years ago and always played on loop at King's Island for several years in a row...pardon the rotten quality, it was all I could find.), as can Diaz when given the ability to take her foot off of the, “look how wacky I am” pedal long enough for us not to just want her character to be quiet already. Here, she gets a better story arc, unlike some of her other perma-wackos, her character in, “Being John Malkovich” for example. Amazing movie, she’s great in it, but she doesn’t get the chance to change much in that. Here, we’re treated to seeing her character learn how to literally roll with the punches and find some long-missing fulfillment in her adventure as she learns how to handle herself and even begins to feed off of the danger she is surrounded by. The more discerning viewer will look for character symbolism involving the car she is working on in the film.

This movie, to me, is what I was hoping, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” would be. Funnier, better plot, and characters that are actually having fun. On top of all of that, I found myself quite enjoying the music and I am definitely interested in the soundtrack. In fact, I do believe I’ll have to catch this again in theaters. That’s how much I liked it. So sue me, I miss having fun at the box office and movies like this give me the license to do so. I’m not all pent up because there’s no comic book, no novel, no classic movie original version to have to compare it to. I find myself giving original movies a lot more leeway nowadays than I used to because they’re just more fun for this critic to see.

All I wanted was to have fun and this movie delivered, and then some. I say, go see it. Just let yourself go and relax and try to forget the actor's personal lives and all the critics telling you to hate it. If you do hate it, hate it for your own reasons, and not becasue someone told you to on a message board or a movie review site.