Sneaking into theaters with little to no fanfare at the tail end of summer, “The Cold Light of Day,” a dramatically inert and visually muddy thriller from Mabrouk El Mechri (“JCVD“), is so bad that its mere presence in theaters feels like the behind-the-scenes machinations of some kind of contractual obligation instead of actual enthusiasm on anyone’s part. It’s telling that the movie was released in the United Kingdom back in April (it was rightly savaged) and is only finally coming out here. And if we were some high ranking executive at Warner Bros., we would be genuinely concerned about the on-screen presence of Henry Cavill, who leads “The Cold Light of Day” and has been cast by the studio as the lead in next summer’s Superman extravaganza “Man of Steel.” The dude doesn’t just lack charisma, he seems to vacuum it from other actors too.
Even recounting the plot of “The Cold Light of Day” seems like an effort in futility, but here goes anyway: dull, handsome dude Will Shaw (Cavill) visits Spain, where his father (Bruce Willis, looking like he lost a bet) works as some kind of cultural attaché to the local government. The newly reunited family (including his mom, played by Caroline Goodall; brother, played by Rafi Gavron; and his brother’s girlfriend played by Emma Hamilton) are off on an adventure on the family’s sailboat. And this adventure seems to go on forever. Seriously, it feels like the first half of the movie is “Moby Dick” or something. One day Will, preoccupied with his failing small business, goes into town for supplies and comes back to find the boat gone. He eventually locates it and finds that everyone on the boat are gone too… It’s all terribly mysterious, made even more mysterious by the fact that the police seemingly want to kill his blandly handsome ass.
Will is rescued by his gruff, bored-looking father, and the rest of the movie stumbles along as a barely comprehensible (but mostly incomprehensible) chase movie, where Will tries to retrieve his family, fight off various assassins, locate a non-descript briefcase, and look tough while being severely stared down by Sigourney Weaver. It’s a jumbled mess of a movie, and one that feels like it goes on forever, despite running a cool 93 minutes. Sometimes it feels like some cracked young adult novel.
Mostly, it plays out like a series of incredibly dumb decisions – everything from the visuals, which emphasize overlong takes for no narrative or stylistic reason (there are no less than three shots which come out of or go into a mirror), to the fact that one of Will’s allies is a comely young lass named Lucia (played like a Spanish version of Natalie Portman by Veronica Echegui) who is revealed (spoiler alert, as if you give a shit) to be Will’s sister. Not only does this totally kill any and all romantic tension between the two (and thus leaves us with very little to hang our hat on as an audience) but it also introduces a huge plot thread that is barely addressed. It’s so frustrating.
What makes it even more frustrating is when you see that, somehow, Richard Price, the amazing novelist and screenwriter behind “Lush Life,” Ron Howard‘s “Ransom,” and “The Color of Money,” was at least partially responsible for the script. (As we were watching we were trying to decide which stuff was his, and assumed that the moment when Sigourney Weaver starts shooting random pedestrians was probably his invention. It’s safe to assume he was just as bored writing it as an audience will be watching it.)
Another huge issue is Cavill, who, when the movie opens, is an arrogant and absentminded dickhead. He keeps checking his Blackberry until Willis throws it into the ocean and at one point is almost responsible for his brother’s girlfriend being grievously injured. So you kind of hate him off the bat. But when he’s supposed to assume the action movie role, taking on an oversized responsibility and realizing how important family is (or something), he totally fails in that too. Yes, he looks really great – his face has angles that geometrics probably can’t explain – but he lacks any weight or presence. He’s a collection of handsome features in search of a movie star. And he comes across as just as whiny in the second half of the movie as he did in the first, which is not a good thing at all. While we saw the actor in Tarsem‘s “Immortals,” we were too busy being dazzled by that film’s lavish visuals to be bothered with things like actors. Genuinely, we have no idea how he’s going to pull off being the Man of Steel.
Towards the end of the movie, after all the shoot-outs and horribly shot car chases, Cavill asks another character what was in the suitcase that everyone was scrambling over. The other character gives some opaque answer, but the fact that we can’t even remember (or bother ourselves to care), says a whole lot. The characters in “The Cold Light of Day” are constantly searching for something that they can never really put their finger on, and audiences going to see the movie will feel a very similar sensation. [D-]