Review: “The Cold Light of Day”

This time last year came John Singleton’s “Abduction”. It was a film that attempted two things, the first being to establish a cost-efficient and heavily Bourne-inspired spy thriller franchise. The second was to be a star vehicle for its young leading man Taylor Lautner who, surrounded by a solid supporting cast, would have a chance to prove his action hero chops outside the big-budget franchise on which he made his name.

I draw that comparison because a year later we’re getting the exact same movie. The premise is even less compelling, but to compensate they’ve aged up the hero and transferred the locale from generic suburban Pittsburgh to various picturesque places around Madrid and along the Iberian coast. Does it make it any better? Well it does in the same way that normal brown excrement, as opposed to black or yellow, at least gives you a visual indicator that your liver and digestive system isn’t going to suffer from imminent collapse.

The problem with both movies isn’t even the lack of originality, this genre has been mined to death so it’s near impossible to offer anything new anyway. Rather it’s the lack of effort, an almost palpable sense that no-one is even trying here and certainly no-one is breaking a sweat. The script comes from two writers – one making his debut, the other whose most significant credit is the Steve Austin-led nonsense “The Condemned” which at least had one thing this film doesn’t – a sense of fun.

Leading man Henry Cavill is a perfect specimen of manhood, a beautiful face where every feature is chiseled to perfection and yet still very masculine. His pre-“Immortals” ‘normal’ body is naturally handsome, neither the starved look of a waxed twink or the grotesque puffery of a juicing gym-rat. While he’s demonstrated solid enough acting chops on “The Tudors”, his big screen outings haven’t been so flattering and ‘Cold’ is his most unfortunate turn yet.

A big part of that problem is his character Will is made to be so thoroughly unlikable. The perfect stereotype of the worst kind of ugly Western tourist, he’s arrogant, loud, self-centered, narcissistic, rude and completely devoid of any discernible intelligence, nous or real world experience. He’s the kind of guy who walks into a police station, where a lot of people don’t speak English, and shouts demands like “don’t treat me like an idiot”. He certainly sounds like one.

His entire job for 95% of the film is merely to run, scream at people and/or look pensive while all the supporting characters calmly explain every plot point with great detail. Arguably the single worst moment Cavill delivers is his forced ‘panic’ over finding his family missing. The painful awkwardness of the scene is compensated by some gratuitous glistening chest hair framing.

Despite his prominence, Bruce Willis’ role is essentially an extended cameo with him playing the disapproving father figure – it’s a walk in the park (and undoubtedly a good paycheck) for the actor who is mainly there to serve as a bankable star name to sell the film. Sigourney Weaver has fun playing a rogue CIA agent whom she doesn’t even bother portraying as anything other than a manipulative bitch.

Solid talent who have delivered great performances in the past are all stuck with unimpressive bit parts. These include Caroline Goodall who remains particularly ravaging, Rafi Gavron who made a strong debut in both “Breaking and Entering” and “Rome”, and Joseph Mawle who stole the show in the gay cult film “Clapham Junction”. All are wasted here, a real shame.

The story makes little sense not because of any complexity but rather due to its gaps of logic. There’s a lot of convenient coincidences going on here, mostly involving characters unexpectedly showing up at just the right time. Dialogue isn’t just a mix of bad cliches, there’s something a little off about the tone as well. Other elements are just so random as to be silly, such as the potential Spanish love interest’s connection with the family.

If there’s one saving grace here it is at least they haven’t made Will into either a sleeper spy or a guy who conveniently knows a ton of martial arts. Director Mabrouk El Mechri also presents his central set piece well, a Bourne Ultimatum-esque action riff involving rooftop leaps and a motorbike chase. I single it out because it’s the only one in the film that’s cleanly shot and comprehensible even though it ends with a rather dubious multi-storey fall onto cobblestones without injury.

A day-for-night car chase scene in the first act is so heavily computer generated and poorly edited it may as well have been leftover gameplay scenes from one of the lesser “Need for Speed” video games. The night time car chase through Madrid in the final act at least feels practical if not particularly thrilling.

Films like this are green lit for one purpose – to effectively serve as a tax break for the production company or the film’s financier. As long as it keeps to a modest budget, even the most awful film will earn a return and the backers can use the money they save from the Government to buy Ayn Rand memorabilia on eBay. The only thing that separates a movie like this from the worst direct-to-DVD titles is the production values and talent involved. It’s an embarrassment for everyone involved but, thankfully, no-one but the most forgiving of viewers will end up seeing it.