It’s a recipe Hitchcock would have enjoyed: Take a stressed-out American businessman, plop him into a foreign country with no luggage or ability to speak the language, then thrust him into a plot in which he must rescue his family from kidnappers while being pursued by bad guys and sought out by police who are either in on the conspiracy or who wrongly assume that he has killed a cop.
Granted, director Mabrouk El Michri (“JCVD”) is no Hitchcock, but “The Cold Light of Day” winds up being relentlessly entertaining and almost giddily ridiculous. This isn’t great cinema, or even a movie you’ll remember four hours later, but as stupid thrill rides go, it’s smart enough to show you a good time.
Our imperiled American is Will Shaw (Henry Cavill), who’s flown to Spain from San Francisco to spend time with his mom, his brother and his hard-ass dad Martin (Bruce Willis). One day, Will jumps off the family sailboat to swim ashore for supplies; he returns to find the boat in a different location — and abandoned. Almost kidnapped by the local cops, who appear to be in cahoots with the Shaws’ captors, Will is rescued by Martin who, it turns out, has been a CIA agent all along, and not the cultural attaché that his sons believed him to be.
Soon, Will finds himself enmeshed in international intrigue, complete with a MacGuffin (there’s a briefcase that everybody wants) and an exceedingly untrustworthy power player, high-level agent Carrack (Sigourney Weaver). To save himself and his family, white-collar Will finds himself in an ever-escalating series of shoot-outs, close calls and car chases.
It’s a testament to “The Cold Light of Day” — that title is never explained, incidentally — that the action reveals Will’s character far more than the fairly stoic Cavill ever does. In most movies, people in danger magically turn into sharp-shooting ninjas, but whenever Will and his sidekick Lucia (Verónica Echegui) find themselves suddenly thrust in a gun battle or an escape scenario, they behave erratically and sloppily, like normal people would.
For the most part, Cavill is there to get beaten up and shot at a lot, which he does with a certain degree of finesse. But he's almost always the least interesting person on screen.
The scenario is by the numbers, but by the time Will and Lucia are on a hair-raising, high-speed pursuit of Carrack through the streets of Madrid, you won’t care that you’ve seen this exact movie hundreds of times before.
Part of that elation comes from Valerio Bonelli’s editing, and part from Weaver, who’s having a ball playing a cold-hearted superspy. One moment, she’s a deadly precise assassin, with a look on her face that suggests that she’s annoyed at having to bother to shoot people, and the next minute, she’s exclaiming “Whoo!” after driving through a sidewalk café.
There’s no defending “The Cold Light of Day” as high art or even great trash, but it’s consistently fun. And that counts for something, right?