Knight and Day (2010)

Why is this movie called Knight and Day? The knight part makes sense -- it's the real name of superspy Roy Miller (Tom Cruise), who, early in the movie, picks up a knight figurine from an airport gift shop. And Miller is a kind of a knight in body armor to June (Cameron Diaz). That's June Haven. Nobody in the movie is called Day. And while a goodly portion of the movie takes place in daylight, and on assorted days, the same is true of many movies that do *not* have Day (or Knight) in the title. The only logical explanation is that someone was taken with the punny possibilities of calling a movie Knight and Day, and forgot to include a Day. But Hard Day's Knight, or Knight Moves, or several other possibilities would have made more sense. The porn movie based on Knight and Day will probably be called Long Day's Journey into Knight. You heard it here first.

Maybe the nonsensical title is meant to be a MacGuffin, but once you get past thinking about who the heck Day is, Knight and Day is rather fun and enjoyable. The movie aims to combine the contemporary action-spy film and the romantic thriller-mystery movies of the forties and fifties. Sort of. It more or less succeeds, although the romantic part never convincingly gets off the ground, and the thriller-mystery stuff takes a back seat to the cars-flying, bullets-flying, helicopter-and-jetliner-flying, bulls-runnning action. Lots of things fly in Knight and Day, and lots of things crash too. The movie, in true spy movie fashion, hops the globe, and lands in Pamplona just as those bulls start a-running. It also goes to Austria, Boston, California, and the Azores via various motorized conveyances. The body count is quite high, although the movie is generally bloodless, and most of the casualties involve various anonymous peons of various bad guys.

Roy may or may not be a rogue spy, and he may or may not be crazy. Cruise, for all that he lacks as a thespian, does crazy pretty well, with manic eyes and a toothy grin that immediately set him apart as the go-to guy for crazy-but-competent running about and carrying on. He even says, at one point in the movie, "I'm the guy." Yes, he's the guy. Roy bumps into June -- she's the gal -- in Wichita, where she is trying to catch a plane home to Boston for her sister's wedding. June restores vintage American cars, for what it's worth. Several dead bodies and a plane crash later, June is being pursued by either the CIA or an arms dealer, or both, and also by Roy, who may or may not be a good guy who is trying to protect her from the bad guys. Roy is also trying to protect a nerdy scientist (Paul Dano) who has invented some kind of super-duper energy source. Maybe. 

It doesn't really matter. Roy has a mission, there are bad guys, and some top secret thingie that must be kept safe. What works about Knight and Day is that the movie is pretty much implausible from start to finish, but nobody ever pretends otherwise. Realism is not what this movie's about. It's about a guy who can dispatch his enemies with maximal efficiency while simultaneously trying to reassure his increasingly hysterical hostage and/or protectee June that things are not as bad as they seem in spite of all the bullets and bombs and assassins and crash-landings. Roy's a real chatterbox, which is a most unexpected character trait in a superspy-assassin type. He's like Jason Bourne played by Cary Grant -- all talk, all action. June, for her part, holds up her end of the increasingly absurd conversation, although why she sticks with Roy when to do so is to live in mortal peril is... well, there's no reason she should, but if she didn't, this would be an entirely different movie, so it's just as well. There's nonstop banter in the script by Patrick O'Neill, and it sets Knight and Day apart from the action pack. There could have been more talk, and less action, but director James Mangold manages to juggle both the snappy patter and the hectic crashings and smashings and maintain the movie's sense of humor. In addition to laying on a thick base layer of chatter, the movie has fun elbowing all kinds of spy movie conventions in the ribs. Speedboats? Check. Parachutes? Check. Motorcycle chase? Got it. Mysterious meetings in narrow alleyways in Salzburg? It's in there. Post-it notes? Yup.

Knight and Day is fun, which is something spy movies usually are not. They can be cool, and intriguing, and exciting, and insightful. Knight and Day is not really any of those things. It has stuff that's sort of exciting and there's a little bit of mystery, but that's not the stuff that really matters. And the romantic part of the romantic comedy gets waylaid, because Roy and June are not very convincing as sweethearts -- they seem decidedly undecided about the whole thing. But that might just be the secret of their success -- they kind of grow on each other, and on the audience too.