Friday, 13 August 2010

Knight and Day: Cruise Control

"Knight and Day" shuffles sheepishly to UK shores amidst jeers of box-office failure in the US and the distant sound of the death knell of Tom Cruise's long and spotty career. Does it really represent the end of Cruise's time in the spotlight? Are we witnessing the crash of the star-vehicle in general?

I dunno. It's not all that bad a film, not particularly successful, but not a disaster either.

The story revolves around Cruise's Roy Miller (same name as Matt Damon in "Green Zone". Maybe this is a sequel?), a secret agent type fella, and Cameron Diaz's June Havens, a mechanic or something I think, who meet on a plane and become embroiled in a convoluted and silly caper involving spanish arms-dealers, federal agents, teenage geeks and super-batteries.

I've stated in the past that I was surprisingly amused by the trailers, and the film itself is certainly amusing up to a point, but it is also clumsy, repetitive, dramatically flat and relies almost entirely on the charisma of its two stars.

So, if you generally like Tom and Cameron, you will probably quite enjoy "Knight and Day" in spite of its flaws, but therein lies the problem:

Nobody likes Tom Cruise anymore.

What happens when a movie star, essentially a product, loses its shine? Tom has, in recent years, spiralled out of public favour due to various high-profile foot-in-mouth moments and a growing, widely-held belief that he is at the head of some nefarious cult of alien-worshipping dingbats. His appeal has gone from "Lets go and see the new Tom Cruise movie, he's cool!" to "I'm not watching that, it's got Tom Cruise in it. I bet the money from my ticket will go to funding alien autopsies or something".

This presents us with the curiously double-edged blade of movie-stardom. You get famous because of some films you were in, so people want to get to know the real you, they find out too much about the real you, they then can't disassociate this knowledge from your actual work onscreen.

I've always thought Cruise was under-rated as a performer, but he's always at his best when playing a damaged arsehole. "Rain Man": Arsehole. "Magnolia": Arsehole. "Tropic Thunder": Arsehole.

Sure, he can play a charismatic action hero, but he really excels at arrogance and irrationality. This role sees him bringing some of that irrationality to a typical action framework, as his Miller is eccentric to the point of insanity, whilst doing all the usual running, jumping and cheesy-grinning you expect from a Tom Cruise character. This apparently unbalanced centre of the character is, unfortunately, never fully addressed aside from a couple of narrative red-herrings and ultimately feels like some sort of gimmick to keep you watching for the first half of the film: "What's Crazy Tom going to do next?!?!?"

It is also easy to read this as Cruiso grabbing at straws: "Tom, everyone thinks you're crazy." "Well, if I act crazy in a movie, I'll seem self-aware and funny and maybe they'll love me again!"

The failure of this effort has led to much speculation about the nature of movie-stardom at the moment. Is Tom Cruise really worth 20-odd million a movie? There was a time when slapping his name above the title guaranteed you a smashing opening-weekend and a massive return on your investment, but if he can't promise that anymore, what the hell are you paying him for?

This led the Gaurdian newspaper to suggest that perhaps Leo DiCaprio's Crazy Face has taken over the Cruise-Dude's place in the Hollywood-heirarchy (see here), and Empire magazine to retort here, but I feel that Dinky Tom's star is on the wane, not only because of his self-imposed smear campaign, but because he is the last of a dying breed. There are very few major male movie-stars who can carry a film just on the strength of their established persona these days, the only one springing immediately to mind being Will Smith, who manages to do pretty much the same thing in most blockbuster films he's in (save the world from some robots or something) and still keep it entertaining through sheer strength of charisma. Other performers like Johnny Depp or DiCaprio hold an appeal for a different reason, not just because of who they are, but what you know they're capable of: Eccentric, garish performances with a glimmer of heart that eventually start to grate on you until you just wish he'd do summat proper but he's got "The Rum Diary" coming out soon so that'll be okay, and performances of truthful intensity, seething with emotion and determination to discover the darkness at the heart of man via a permanently furrowed brow and a damn crazy face, respectively.

Cruise's commodity is losing value because he's still relying on simple, shiny-toothed star-wattage to get him through, and people have turned away in droves. He needs to start taking smaller roles, parts where the whole film doesn't rest on his shoulders, do some smaller films, take some risks with the characters he plays, remind us that we liked him because of the work he did, not because of who he is, and maybe he can win us back.

He needs to not do this anymore:

Seriously, the Les Grossman thing was funny in context in "Tropic Thunder", but it had run its course even by the end of that film, where they had him dancing over the end credits just because Tom Cruise dancing in a fat-suit is too funny to only see once.

But Cruise's people must have got the memo that people liked him in "Tropic Thunder", because now they're making a fucking movie all about Tom Cruise Swearing in a Fat-Suit. Careful, Tom, or you'll become the new Eddie Murphy.

Anyway, back to "Knight and Day". It's an okay film. Entertaining enough, with a nice bit of interplay between Tom and Cameron, but the action is somewhat marred by an abundance of CGI fakery which makes it appear a cheap bastard cousin of Bourne or Bond with some romantic comedy silliness thrown in. Peter Sarsgaard and Paul Dano are wasted on minimal screentime and shallow characters, the plot is convoluted nonsense revolving around an uninspired McGuffin, and there is a distinct feeling of repetition to the attack-chase-escape structure of the set-pieces and the film in general.

Basically: It's okay. I suppose.

Oh, and Paul Dano plays a character called Simon Feck. Which is bloody hilarious.


  1. I find it odd that I've never even heard of this movie-- probably because, as you've said, nobody likes Tom Cruise.

    Is Scott Pilgrim out in the UK? Because I saw it today and it was awesome, I feel you would love it.

  2. Cruise is like the kid with head-lice at the moment.

    Pilgrim is not out over here yet, but I am looking forward to it with a mixture of excitement and dread. I loved the comics, but I can see how the film could go wrong. Describe it to me...

  3. They went all out with the video game-comic book theme but they integrated it really well. It was like being inside of a little geek-boy fantasy. It seemed like they knew they wouldn't be able to pull it off without getting a little bit ridiculous and over the top with the noises and effects but that only made it more enjoyable and laugh-inducing. I never read the comics so I have no idea if it did them justice but I'd put it up there with Inception for me this summer, you may disagree, but I think you'll enjoy it nonetheless.

  4. Tom Cruise does portray a good arsehole...if they ever make an Assy McGee movie he would be perfect in the role...