As refreshing as a cool drink of lemonade on a hot day, “Knight and Day” has just what we want from a big summer Hollywood summer movie: glamorous locations, even more glamorous movie stars, lots of crazy stunts and chases, a couple of romantic smooches, and of course some really big explosions.
It helps to have Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, two stars with smiles that can fill a 40 foot screen. Wisely, screenwriter Patrick O’Neill and director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) create the whole movie around what these two performers do best, which is have fun on screen and make it fun for us, too. Their effortless charm gives off enough sizzle to keep things going between stunts.
Cruise plays Roy Miller. We see right away that he’s really good at hand-to-hand combat and running and jumping and shooting. And apparently he is also very good at lying, which is why we do not know whether to believe him when he says he is the good guy. Neither does the person he says it to, a vintage car restoration expert named June (Cameron Diaz). They first run into each other, literally, at the airport. She is on her way to her sister’s wedding. Coincidentally, they bump into each other twice, once before going through TSA security, once on the other side. Don’t think it’s a coincidence? You just might be right!
Cruise and Diaz seem a bit relieved to have a chance to be silly in a summer popcorn movie, after less-than-successful efforts at serious drama (“Valkyrie” and “My Sister’s Keeper”). Both are adept at hitting the sweet spot that keeps the tone light, even in the midst of mowing down bad guys. There’s a lot that doesn’t work in this movie, including repeated scenes of characters being drugged (though Diaz makes a truth serum scene amusing with her matter-of-fact delivery), a distracting amount of jet-setting all over the globe, and literal overkill of legions of bad guys. That title, really? And surely they could do better for the talented Paul Dano (“There Will be Blood” and “Little Miss Sunshine”) than yet another nerdy genius with a universally coveted invention. But there is a lot that works. Diaz and Cruise have a natural chemistry and easy equality that is just plain entertaining. They bring enough conviction to the story to keep us believing and rooting for them without taking it so seriously that we start second-guessing the storyline. Supporting players include the always-welcome Viola Davis, Peter Sarsgaard, Celia Weston, and Marc Blucas. The stunts are expertly staged with Cruise and Diaz clearly right in the middle of it all, not checking their email back in the trailer while stuntmen do anything more strenuous than opening a door, and I have to say, they are summer movie crazynutsfun. It’s not as easy as it looks to combine action, comedy, and romance (I’m talking to you, Killers). But Diaz and Cruise show us how both characters want more of what the other has, without making too big a deal out of it. And they make it seem not just normal that you’d interrupt a deadly chase to capture a hugely valuable little doo-hicky to attend a wedding, but rather sweet.
Things — and people — heat up in this third chapter in the “Twilight” saga. Bella (Kristen Stewart) begins by quoting Robert Frost’s famous poem about whether the world will end in fire or ice. That will be more than a metaphor as she must decide between Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner), both more than human, and both utterly devoted to her. Both, too, have sworn to keep her safe, and at times during this chapter that forces them into a grudging and very uneasy alliance.
Bella met Edward, a vampire, and they realized they loved each other in “Twilight.” And then in “New Moon” being separated and almost losing each other showed them that they could not be apart. But it also gave Bella a chance to grow close to Jacob, a shape-shifter who is part of a wolf pack. In this chapter, Bella and Edward are back together and she wants to become a vampire so they can stay together forever, even though it would mean giving up everyone else she has ever cared about. But Jacob insists that he loves her and is better for her. “You wouldn’t have to change for me,” he tells her.
And at graduation, Bella’s friend Jessica (“Up in the Air’s” Anna Kendrick) addresses the class, telling them that this is not the time to make irrevocable decisions.
Edward does not want her to change. He misses his human life and knows what it would mean to give it up. And his sister Rosalie tells Bella she feels the loss of her dream of living in a normal world. Bella worries that she might lose what it is that Edward loves about her if she becomes a vampire. But if she does not, she will lose him as she grows old while he stays forever young.
Edward and his family are benign vampires, living among humans and confining themselves to a sort of vampire vegetarianism, with animals as their only source of blood. But two groups of evil, destructive vampires are after them, Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, taking over from Rachelle Lefevre), bent on revenge because Edward killed her lover when he attacked Bella, and the Volturi, a ruling body that destroys any members of the vampire community they believe put them at risk of exposure.
Director David Slade ably takes over from Chris Weitz and Catherine Hardwicke, staying consistent with their vision but demonstrating his own take on the key elements of the story, adolescent longing and primal physical confrontations. Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, continues her skillful adaptation of the books, respectful of the source material but translating it for cinematic story-telling. They maintain a connection that makes the the Northwest settings and the intensity of the fantasy battles feel like a physical manifestation of the between the teenage angst and desire.
Stewart and Pattinson still have the chemistry that launched dozens of magazine covers and Lautner really comes into his own in this chapter, showing more confidence and maturity as his character grows up. Like the book, this chapter has more action, more romance, and more drama, and sets us up very nicely for the grand finale.
Irvin Kershner, director of what is generally considered to be the best “Star War” movie, “The Empire Strikes Back,” died last week at age 87. George Lucas issued this statement of appreciation:
“The world has lost a great director and one of the most genuine people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing,” says Lucas. “Irvin Kershner was a true gentleman in every sense of the word. When I think of Kersh, I think of his warmth, his thoughtfulness and his talent. I knew him from USC — I attended his lectures and he was actually on the festival panel that gave the prize to my THX short. I considered him a mentor. Following Star Wars, I knew one thing for sure: I didn’t want to direct the second movie myself. I needed someone I could trust, someone I really admired and whose work had maturity and humor. That was Kersh all over. I didn’t want Empire to turn into just another sequel, another episode in a series of space adventures. I was trying to build something, and I knew Kersh was the guy to help me do it. He brought so much to the table. I am truly grateful to him. He was a friend as well as a colleague. He will be missed.”
Hosting the Oscars is one of the highest-pressure jobs in show business. It is also one of the most thankless. Hosting the show requires months of preparation and the ability to ad lib on the spot. We expect Oscar hosts to be funny without insulting anyone too much. And we tend to blame them when the show is overlong and dull, as it inevitably is.
The hosts are usually people who performed as stand-up comedians, and the most popular have included Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, and Billy Crystal. The announcement today that instead of a comedian this year’s hosts will instead be two young actors, James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Both are possible candidates for awards themselves — Franco’s role in “127 Hours” is likely to get a Best Actor nomination and Hathaway might get a Best Actress nomination for her role in “Love and Other Drugs.”
Both have proved themselves hosting “Saturday Night Live,” showing poise and comic timing. Most important, they have both shown that they can project an instant likability at the same time as real star power. I think it will be a great show.