Knight and Day: What Happened to this Underrated Tom Cruise Flick?

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A decade before Knight and Day was released, a movie like it would have killed with audiences: Come on, it starred Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz and looked to perfectly mash humor and action in a way that so few male/female-led action-comedies had for years. Yet, it didn’t connect. But why? There are a lot of reasons, really, and not just, as Roy Miller would say, “one of those things.” Through lousy marketing, hokey promotion, poorly timed sneak previews, and even Katie Holmes, Knight and Day fizzled, less “beautiful dress” than beautiful mess…But it did at least inspire a Bollywood remake, so suck on that, Vanilla Sky! Let’s find out: What Happened to this Movie?!

Knight and Day began, as with so many Hollywood screenplays, as a spec script, or a work that is uncommissioned but written in hopes of selling it to a studio (think Basic Instinct and Good Will Hunting). And that screenplay was written by Patrick O’Neill…at least originally. And it was called All New Enemies…at least originally. And it was geared up to have landed an R rating…at least originally. This is one motorcycle you’ll want to strap into because there are going to be a lot of screenwriters, a lot of title changes and a lot of plot developments.

In total, it’s estimated that around 12 writers circled what would eventually morph into Knight and Day, including Ted Griffin (Ocean’s 11), Laeta Kalogridis (the Bionic Woman remake) and Simon Kinberg (Mr. and Mrs. Smith). While we may not know exactly what their individual contributions were, no doubt you can see marks of most of these movies/TV shows in the final version of Knight and Day.

The first title change came early enough, when All New Enemies was retitled Wichita, so named for where the movie starts, with Diaz’s character having just made an auto parts deal there. Speaking of the Kansas city, the opening sequence was at one point set virtually, with Cruise and Diaz’s characters meeting online. This, like so much else, would be ditched. Around this time, the movie was set up at Revolution Studios… but this would be short-lived, moving over to Sony, where it was retitled Trouble Man.

Now, let’s chat directors. The original director was Gridiron Gang’s Phil Joanou. But when Sony bailed on the movie and Fox picked it up, in came Tom Dey, director of Shanghai Noon and Failure to Launch. Eventually, directing duties would go to James Mangold, then best known for Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma. For Mangold, it was an opportunity to loosen up his filmography a bit and not worry about doing an Oscar-caliber movie.

At Fox, Knight and Day would be reworked seemingly constantly. One major focus for the studio was to develop a romance angle between the leads, something that seemed obvious back when the characters were changed from a male and younger co-star to two adults: a male and a female, a “night and day”, as it were. They, too, brought in yet another writer – What Happens in Vegas’ Dana Fox – to help. Yes, there were a lot of writers who had their pen in the ink, so much so that it was a long discussion with the Writers Guild of America over who would get final credit. Since it couldn’t be determined who contributed the most “significant” portion of the script, final credit went to original writer Patrick O’Neill. But playing off of Knight and Day’s numerous drafts, he said, “I still don’t know exactly what it’s about, and that’s what’s so cool. What’s even cooler? These two superstars reminding us why they’re superstars.”

So, who would those superstars be? Well that’s about as deep as the revolving door of writers. One original star was Adam Sandler, attached back in the Wichita days around 2005. As for why he turned it down, he said, “I just don’t see me with a gun.” He would instead lead Grown Ups, which, unfortunately for Knight and Day, will come up a bit later…When it was Trouble Man at Sony, both Chris Tucker and Eva Mendes were tied to the lead roles. Eventually, in came Cameron Diaz to play June Havens, while Gerard Butler circled the role of Roy Miller aka Matthew Knight. He, however, would opt to do The Bounty Hunter opposite Jennifer Aniston instead.

So, when does Tom Cruise enter? Well, once he ditched the lead role in Salt – which itself had a gender swap, with Angelina Jolie later taking the lead – and The Tourist, a role that a few actors were considered for but eventually fell on Johnny Depp. Knight and Day would be Tom Cruise’s chance for some redemption, as Lions for Lambs (2007) and Valkyrie (2008) were far from hits. His public reputation had slid dramatically, too, as he had taken to jumping on daytime talk show couches and blasting psychiatry and growing Scientological ties, which probably played into Fox’s poorly managed marketing campaign later on…As Mangold remembered, “In my totally selfish mind’s eye, I could not imagine he was going to make any other choice.”

Knight and Day, too, would give him the chance to get back in the action game. Not surprisingly, Cruise was very hands-on, bringing his trademark magnetism and presence to the process, helping develop his character into something it hadn’t yet become despite so many drafts. He even brought some ideas to the action sequences, particularly when he has Diaz on a motorcycle and flips her onto his lap, something he had actually been wanting to do in a movie for a while. After all, he does love motorcycles…In one key sequence, he remembered, “The stone road was very slick. That’s why we chose that Ducati. The tires were good. It was lighter in weight than the superbikes…The heart was definitely pumping that morning!” We have to imagine Cruise was sent at least one Ducati from the Italian manufacturer.

Cruise was also so committed that he cut his salary nearly in half to $11 million. He also didn’t take box office residuals – that is, until after investors got their money back. And there were – as you probably figured based on the production history up to this point – a lot of studios: Dune Entertainment, New Regency, Pink Machine, Todd Garner Productions, Tree Line Film…

Cameras on Knight and Day (final title, we promise!) finally rolled in September 2009, with a lot of the movie shot in Massachusetts, including Bedminster, where one of the movie’s most dynamic scenes – the plane crash – was shot. Fox would even pay the fire department $30,000 for their efforts. Other locales included Los Angeles, Austria and Jamaica, including one part that had been seen in 1988’s Cocktail.

knight and day movie

Production on Knight and Day had far fewer issues than pre and post. With most – OK, some – of the issues behind, Mangold, Cruise and Diaz set out to make a fun, adult-geared movie that would feel loose and hopefully put Cruise back at the forefront of entertainment. As Mangold put it, “What I didn’t want was another film that felt so storyboarded so that it felt like a piece of machinery. I wanted to feel like we were finding the movie as we made it.” He added, “I just felt like there was a Tom I missed in the movies. The vulnerable side, the idea that six agents with Uzis might not make him blink but a girl needing to talk about whether he missed her is hard…To see Tom have an unforgettable human moment is better than any special effect.” And Cruise does indeed have many human moments in the movie, chiefly around his humor, which the star has really never been given enough credit for. As Diaz put it, “Tom hasn’t really gotten to be funny [lately]…We got to laugh a lot on this movie and blow shit up.”

But could it blow up the box office? Well, let’s take a look at the marketing, which was completely mishandled by both the creatives and the suits. For example, one poster didn’t even have Cruise and Diaz’s faces on it! As a co-president of Fox marketing said, “It was a way for us to signal that this was a different, adult kind of movie…It wasn’t in any way us trying to hide anyone, simply to make the film look unique.” But it was still like Fox didn’t want to be too attached to their male lead, just in case his stigma carried through to the box office. There was even a weird marketing stunt – designed solely to go viral (never a good sign) – showing the dynamic between Cruise and Diaz, with Diaz kicking Cruise’s chest. But this ended up being mocked for being forced and phony.

Marketing the film was somewhat difficult despite the A-list stars. According to Fox domestic distribution President Bruce Snyder, “This is not as easy a sell as a sequel or a movie based on an existing property. We feel our best tool is to get word of mouth out on it.” One way to do so was with a sneak preview, a pre-release buzz tactic meant to boost numbers, something the studio knew Knight and Day would need. After all, buzz was quiet. As Fox’s marketing co-president Tony Sella put it, “It was a problem with our message. The minute the [bad] tracking came out, we went into Def Con 5, because the tracking never lies. We reacted almost daily in a way to make the campaign better, with different ideas and different spots.”

One move saw Fox opting to hold their preview on the Saturday before it opened; in short, having a poorly received preview so close to the wide release could have killed the movie before it even hit theaters. According to another Fox distribution bigwig: “It’s an adult movie opening on a Wednesday, but we opened it there and snuck it on Saturday because we believe the word-of-mouth will be good, so we’re set for a pretty good opening weekend. Remember, it’s an original, adult movie, which we expect will run for quite a while.”

Knight and Day had its world premiere on June 16th, 2010 in Seville, Spain, where a portion of the movie was shot. It opened one week later on June 23rd…making just $3.8 million on its first day. By the end of the weekend, Knight and Day was #3 at just $20.1 million, well below #2, Grown Ups; consider this: was actually moved up two days so as to get a leg up on the Sandler ensemble (so much for that)…And then it dropped to #5 the next week, down to #7 the week after that and finally out of the top 10 in its fifth week. Another challenge was with Toy Story 3, which would of course go on to become one of the highest-grossing movies of 2010.

With a budget pegged between around $120 million, Knight and Day would go on to make $76.4 million domestically, faring much better worldwide with another $185.5 million, bringing the total gross to $261.9. Later on, it took in $32.8 million in home video sales. Producer Steve Pink would later credit writer Patrick O’Neill and the characters, but also wondered, “Otherwise I have no idea how it stayed alive.”

Had Knight and Day come out, say, 10 years earlier, when Cameron Diaz could have rode her popularity and Charlie’s Angels-level action finesse and Tom Cruise had a better reputation in the public eye, it may have been a major hit all around. Instead, it’s something else: a sort of wink for those that have bothered watching it. Knight and Day deserved a better marketing campaign, resulting in a lousy box office outing. But, as they say: those who know, know. All around, Knight and Day is a damn good movie: it’s funny, it’s nicely paced, the set pieces are a blast, the onscreen chemistry is palpable…

As Fox production president Emma Fox put it, “This is the kind of film that needs to be discovered, and I think it will be.” Maybe someday it will. Then again, that’s a dangerous word – just hopefully not a code for “never.”

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/knight-and-day-what-happened/

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