Cold Light of Day, The (United States/Spain, 2012)

September 08, 2012
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Cold Light of Day, The Poster

Tag line #1: "An action-packed international thriller starring Bruce Willis, Sigourney Weaver, and soon-to-be Superman Henry Cavill."

Tag line #2: "A box office disaster with perhaps the most uncharismatic action hero of the decade in a preposterous thriller where the only thing more disappointing than the ending is the 93 minutes it takes to get there."

Both blurbs apply to The Cold Light of Day. #1 is what the financers thought they were getting. #2 is closer to the reality. The film's theatrical release is a marketing ploy so when it shows up on home video it can escape the "direct-to-DVD" label it richly deserves. It is opening in theaters with no advance critics' screenings, minimal marketing, and poisonous word-of-mouth. It will be gone in a week or two, which amounts to 14 days too long. Charging $10 for this movie is criminal; vouchers and letters of apology should be handed out at the exit for those stalwart viewers who stick it out to the end. When so many talented, challenging screenplays go unproduced, it's a mystery how a mess like this makes it in front of the camera with stars like Willis and Weaver attached. (I know, it's the Nicolas Cage excuse: they need money.)

Perhaps the most ominous thing about The Cold Light of Day pertains to the lead, Henry Cavill, who will be Superman next summer. As The Cold Light of Day's protagonist, Cavill is flat, uninteresting, and unconvincing. For a while, when he's paired with Bruce Willis, things are okay but, once he's forced by circumstances to go solo, he's lost as a low-rent Jason Bourne. The Willis appearance is a tease - his screen time is limited - but it's enough to make us wish that he was at the center of the idiotic plot with its pedestrian, sometimes obscured action sequences rather than Cavill, whose style of acting more resembles wood than steel.

Cavill is Will Shaw, the oldest son of Martin (Willis) and Laurie (Caroline Goodall), who is visiting Spain for an annual sailing vacation with his family. Will's relationship with his father is strained, but he's on good terms with his mom, brother, and brother's girlfriend, so he decides to stick around despite financial troubles back home in San Francisco. While the boat is anchored just off the coast, Will swims ashore to go into town for supplies. He returns to find the boat empty and his family gone. A visit to the local police station reveals that some kind of conspiracy is afoot. Martin appears out of nowhere to help Will escape from the corrupt cops, then reveals he's really a CIA operative. He has 24 hours to deliver a mcguffin to terrorists or they will kill his family. His first stop is to visit Carrack (Weaver), his longtime partner who is, of course, crooked.

The story doesn't make a lot of sense; it's an excuse to keep Will running. At one point, he is pursued by the group that kidnapped his family, Carrack and her henchman, and the cops. This would be understandable if the action was exciting, but it's not. Director Mabrouk El Mechri (who gave us the clever JCVD) believes a long chase featuring a conventional car and a SUV is somehow the height of action film inventiveness. In the end, it's more about product placement than excitement. Weaver comes across more like a soccer mom with road rage than a rogue CIA agent. Meanwhile, perhaps deciding that a pretty face might provide a distraction from the underwritten plot, we're introduced to Lucia (Veronica Echegui), who might have been played by Penelope Cruz fifteen years ago. Our initial expectations that Will and Lucia will become romantically entangled are dashed when the script throws a changeup, revealing that they're half-siblings. They take the revelation calmly and get down to the business of bonding in a brotherly/sisterly manner. Of course, when things get really dangerous, Will drops Lucia at a club so she can dance the night away while he goes to confront Mossad agents.

The dialogue has a strange cadence, almost as if it was written in a different language and subjected to an awkward translation to English. There's also a lot of redundant exposition, where characters state the obvious in case viewers are too busy texting to bother looking at the screen. "We have to go down!" "There's no way down!" "Wait, over there is a way down!" Yes, that's actual dialogue (or something close to it).

For a screenplay that follows the action movie template point-by-point, The Cold Light of Day picks the oddest time to stray from it: the ending. Action Movies 101 decrees that all entries into this genre must conclude with a physical confrontation between the Hero and the Villain. Perhaps feeling that a smackdown between the 28-year old Cavill and the 62-year old Weaver might be a mismatch, the filmmakers instead opt for a cheat wrapped in an anticlimax. Still, by the time the conclusion arrives, it seems unlikely anyone left awake will care. Movies like this breed apathy, and there's nothing worse to feel when sitting in a multiplex.

Inept thrillers often leave a bad aftertaste but The Cold Light of Day is so bland that even something bitter would have been preferable to this flavorless mass of celluloid. Merely labeling The Cold Light of Day as mediocre would be unfortunate, but this is mediocrity leavened by laziness. Actually, watching the two minute condensed version (also known as the trailer) provides the best experience any iteration of this movie could offer. The Cold Light of Day should have stayed hidden in the dark.

Cold Light of Day, The (United States/Spain, 2012)

Director: Mabrouk El Mechri
Cast: Henry Cavill, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Echegui, Bruce Willis, Joseph Mawle
Screenplay: Scott Wiper & John Petro
Cinematography: Remi Adefarasin
Music: Lucas Vidal
U.S. Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Run Time: 1:33
U.S. Release Date: 2012-09-07
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1