Ever since he went schizoid on a couch, fewer and fewer people have been willing to buy into the Tom Cruise experience. Desparate to avoid the type of unhelpful publicity which being branded a scientology nut will inevitably attract, he sought out a comedy vehicle to show the world just how unserious this megastar can be. Knight and Day is that vehicle, a perfectly enjoyable experience but one which is so light on laughs that if you weren’t a fan of Mr. Cruise before, this is unlikely to change your mind.
On the surface what looks like a regular, run of the mill action film turns out to be a far more complex affair; the added fusion of comedy and romance all tied up in an espionage thrill ride means we get a glimpse of true brilliance. What prevents this from transcending the genre is a failure to unify all these disparate strands into a cohesive hole, resulting in a directionless patchwork of gags and gunfights seemingly stitched together from separate stories. So while we applaud the effortless dispatch of machine gun-armed mercenaries, the sudden switch to sitcom is less favourable. Even viewed as a black comedy this is pushing it, with a delivery so deadpan even Larry David wouldn’t go there. Part of the problem undoubtedly is Cruise. His oft-unexplored penchant for comedy impresses but doesn’t quite tickle our funny bone as much as it should. Why? It’s not so much the fault of Cruise per se, rather his character. Initially established as a mentally disturbed agent gone AWOL, so convincing is the performance that you’re never entirely comfortable laughing at it. After all, if he really is unstable, should we be laughing at it?
That being said, he’s easily the most endearing person on the screen, which is surprising seeing as it’s Diaz whose story we’re supposed to be following. The relationship between the two is solid if underdeveloped which isn’t helped by a third act in which she becomes little more than a lovesick damsel in distress. This is arguably the film’s weakest section, where what we thought was a McGuffin is revealed to be of reasonable significance only for us to wish it was a McGuffin all along and a “twist” occurs which is far too isolated from our attention to really affect us. Thankfully these quibbles don’t detract too much from the overall experience. An over-reliance on sub-par CG trickery aside, the action is genuinely engaging and manages that rare combination of being both brutal and stylish. Occasionally its slickness veers dangerously close to Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005) territory but unlike Brad and Angelina, here our protagonists are far too charismatic to hold a grudge against.
It’s perhaps not the ideal comeback the World’s Biggest Star™ had hoped for, but it’s an admirable effort. More than enough to tide us over until Mission Impossible 4.
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