Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With the summer movie season upon us, it’s time to sing the praises of some unsung and underrated summer blockbusters.
Knight And Day (2010)
The fact that James Mangold’s Knight And Day doesn’t get much respect says more about contemporary audiences than it does about the quality of this weightless and exquisitely crafted action comedy. Tweaking Tom Cruise’s famous intensity with a smirking screwball twist, Knight And Day (or Mission: Implausible) was released to a tepid response in the summer of 2010, but has already begun to exhibit signs of the same agelessness that has defined the career of its star. In the era of superheroes, post-credit stingers, and release dates that are publicly negotiated years in advance, Mangold’s most perfectly realized film is the rare modern-blockbuster that actually cares more about serving its audience than it does about lubricating them for the next chapter.
Cruise plays a dashing secret agent named Roy, who desperately needs to clear his name once some nefarious CIA types try to frame him for their crimes. Due to a mix-up in the film’s loony opening sequence, Roy is tangled up with June (Cameron Diaz), a screechy blonde with a thirst for adventure and a dopey ex-boyfriend (Marc Blucas). Sparks fly as the unlikely duo bops around the world, whipping from a tropical island to a Siberian train and everywhere in between as they protect the MacGuffin (a perpetual energy battery, because nuclear codes are so passé), escort its savant-like creator (Paul Dano), and elude the scores of incompetent henchmen who are trying to kill them. Of course, Cruise is the only infinite source of energy the movie needs to move as relentlessly as it does, and Roy is the role of his lifetime: At long last, a part that lets him run, glare, and smile all in the same film.
It’s usually not a great sign when a film has 12 credited writers, but Knight And Day works, because, like the classic romps from which it takes its cues, its bebop-jazz plotting is part of its charm. Mangold takes his escapism as seriously as the movie refuses to take itself: Sure, the climactic sequence is a motorcycle chase in the middle of The Running Of The Bulls (Cruise wearing black sunglasses and looking into the camera: “Bulls?”), but damn if it isn’t the most fluidly staged motorcycle chase The Running Of The Bulls will ever see. The CG might be a bit sloppy, but Mangold displays a giddy talent for inflecting action beats with comedy and vice versa. It’s no surprise that The Wolverine, Mangold’s follow-up, has one of the best and most visceral set pieces of any superhero movie.
You can tell that Knight And Day is a true labor of love, because Cruise practically agreed to do it for fun. (“For fun” equals $11 million versus his usual salary of $20 million and a cut of the profits). Viewers would give it a second chance might find they love it as much as he does.
Availability: Knight And Day is available on Blu-ray and DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix and to rent or purchase from the major digital services.