James Mangold´s Knight and Day is the latest entry in this year´s popular buddy-action-romantic-comedy genre: a curious hodgepodge of stale plot points that remixes 80s buddy cop pictures (48 hrs., Lethal Weapon) with Nora Ephron rom-com (Sleepless in Seattle) in the hopes of coming up with fresh and appealing to as wide an audience as possible. It´s as good as the genre will allow, I think, and better than this year´s earlier attempts, The Bounty Hunter and Killers. In other words, not quite good enough.
Knight and Day stars Tom Cruise as Roy Miller, a James Bond/Jason Bourne-like secret agent. Cameron Diaz is June Havens, the innocent girl he bumps into at the airport who becomes tangled in his mission. Further plot description is unnecessary: if you´ve been to the movies before, you have a good idea of what happens here.
Director Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) is above all competent, and delivers a coherent, easy to follow (and by-the-numbers) film that – praises – features some action scenes where we can just about tell what´s going on. Rare these days. There’s an overuse of unconvincing CGI, and things get a bit silly by the climax with a motorcycle chase in Spain during the running of the bulls.
Cruise and Diaz are as likable and charismatic here as they´ve ever been, and make a great screen couple: like them or not, they feel like they deserve each other. There´s a great supporting cast in here somewhere too: the always-excellent Peter Sarsgaard, Jordi Mollà (Blow), Viola Davis (Doubt), Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood). But you can forget ‘em – all wasted in nothing roles, this is the Cruise-Diaz show all the way through.
In the effort to frenetically cover all bases, these movies end up appealing to nobody: Killers, The Bounty Hunter, and Knight and Day have all been box office duds, Knight a rare one for star Tom Cruise. It´s possible to appeal to a wide audience by throwing in elements of other genres: Charade was a Hitchcockian thriller with romance elements, Romancing the Stone was an adventure with romance elements, and a few years back, Mr. & Mrs. Smith was an action film with romance elements. Not that I recommend that last one, but all three were popular with audiences who knew what they were getting: a specific genre with some bonus romance.
But this latest breed – I´ve heard them dubbed ‘romaction´ movies, but that isn´t entirely accurate – forcibly merges the very specific buddy-action and romantic-comedy genres into one script, ticking off the major plot points of each genre as it moves along. If you´ve seen some enough romantic comedies or buddy cop movies, you´ll recognize the formula, which they keep using because it generally works.
When the genres are combined, however, the formula fails. I wasn´t sure what to think during Knight and Day when watching the Murtaugh and Riggs archetypes fall in love. During half of the movie, the romance felt perfunctory. During the other half, I didn´t know whether I should be taking the action scenes surrounding our Harry and Sally couple seriously.
I don´t think Mangold knew what to make of the material either. That results in a half-goofy, almost-over-the-top film that could have been a lot more fun had it gone the all-out distance. As it is, Knight and Day is a watchable, forgettable popcorn movie, and hopefully the final nail in this peculiar genre´s coffin.
Paul King´s Bunny and the Bull is, at least initially, a very appealing thing: low-budget but inventive, the film features a small cast of characters interacting with a backdrop of paper cutouts, still images, and tinker-toy sets. But once the initial charm of the visuals has worn off, we´re left with a surprisingly mundane road movie that leads to dullsville.
Bunny stars Edward Hogg as Stephen, a reclusive shut-in who hasn´t left his flat in a year, and in full obsessive-compulsive Howard Hughes mode keeps jars of urine and boxes of used floss and other garbage carefully organized. “Drinking straws 1995-6,” his friend Bunny (Simon Farnaby) remarks. “Well, it was a good year.”
There isn´t much hope for a story in the present – beyond running out of frozen dinners and calling up the Crab Shack for a delivery of their vegetarian option – so we flash back to a year ago, when Stephen and Bunny got lucky at the track and took an impromptu European vacation. Bunny want to help Stephen meet a girl, and he does: Spanish waitress Eloisa (Verónica Echegui), who quits her job in Poland and joins the duo for a ride back to Spain.
This being a road movie, much of the film is padded out with half-amusing vignettes, such as the acquisition of a giant stuffed bear and an encounter with a crazed homeless man and his dogs in Switzerland. I cracked a few smiles during some of these scenes, but rarely anything more (exception: a trip to the Polish Museum of Shoes, with The IT Crowd´s Richard Ayoade as the curator).
Bunny and the Bull´s greatest strength is its look, which shouldn´t be understated. There´s a wonderful patchwork, paper & scissors feel to the whole environment. But this can only carry the movie so far, and after half an hour the narrative thrust is idling. The style also distances us from the characters, and causes the finale to lose some emotional resonance.
Director King is one of the minds behind the cult TV series The Mighty Boosh, which features a peculiar brand of comedy that doesn´t appeal to everyone (myself included). Bunny and the Bull shares some of the show´s low-budget inventiveness, but otherwise comes across as melancholy, with its own less-unique brand of humor. Boosh stars Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding appear in small roles.
It´s tough to place Bunny and the Bull; throughout, I was most reminded of Michel Gondry´s last two features, Be Kind Rewind and The Science of Sleep. I didn´t think all that much of either upon initial viewings, but an appreciation for them has grown in retrospect. Bunny just might fall along similar lines.