This would-be Hitchcockian “wrong man” caper has some star power in its cast—Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver appear in supporting roles. But they’re at far from their best in what amounts to a perfunctory chase movie that drops in its tracks long before it reaches what’s supposed to pass for a rousing climax.
The protagonist of “The Cold Light of Day” (even the title sounds generic) is Will Shaw (Henry Cavill), a handsome young business consultant whose company is in danger of failing as he heads to the Spanish coast for a yearly vacation with his family. Dad Martin (Willis) is supposedly a cultural attaché with the American embassy, and a sour-faced martinet. Mom Laurie (Caroline Goodall) is a supportive rock. And younger brother Josh (Rafi Gavron) is a likable fellow with a pretty fiancée named Dara (Emma Hamilton).
But when Will swims back to shore after a tiff with Martin on the family yacht, he returns to find the boat gone—and when he finally locates it, his family has disappeared. Martin arrives in time to save the lad from a bevy of bad-guys, including the local cops, but reports that Laurie, Josh and Dara remain prisoners. Dad, you see, is actually a CIA agent, and the guy who’s taken their loved ones is demanding that he turn over something very important—or else.
It’s a sign of how impoverished the screenplay is that the MacGuffin, as Hitch called it, is something as banal as a briefcase containing secret papers (the content of which the picture never bothers to reveal, leaving the matter a joke at the close). No sooner is that made clear, however, than Martin is killed, leaving Will, who knows nothing of the spy business, his mother and brother’s only hope of survival. And when he visits U.S. authorities for help, he finds little—indeed, his dad’s old partner Carrack (Weaver) quickly exhibits a sinister edge.
From this point “Light of Day” trades in stock stuff. Will runs around the streets of Madrid getting shot at and pursued by local police, who wrongly believe that he killed one of their own, as well as by the kidnappers and American agents. He finds an ally in Lucia (Veronica Echegui), a lovely girl who turns out to be the result of the life his father was leading on the side, in more ways than one. He gets shot, otherwise injured and beaten up but keeps on going nonetheless. And in the end, after a long car chase through the city’s streets, he’s instrumental in bringing the villain to justice—with a little help from new-found friends.
Mabrouk El Mechri’s direction is pedestrian throughout, giving little help to his cast. Cavill is a handsome guy and puts his well-muscled physique to good use in the action sequences, but he can’t do much to enliven a character that’s little more than a sketch of a person, and his acting is rudimentary. Echegui is similarly decorative but bland. As for the bigger names, Willis scowls throughout his relatively brief appearance, but still he beats Weaver, who’s forced to play scenes that make her role in the Taylor Lautner bomb “Abduction” seem positively Shakespearean. Colm Meaney shows up for a last-reel cameo that seems to be a feeler for a franchise. Fat chance, but he probably enjoyed the chance to escape Britain for the balmier Spanish climes.
But even the locations suffer here, with Remi Adefarasin’s cinematography making the night scenes look murky and the daylight ones washed-out. Lucas Vidal’s score tries to pump up the action, but its propulsive drive merely sounds desperate.
The cold truth is that “Cold Light” is a long, tedious slog, even at a mere 93 minutes.