Little more than a week will go by without you hearing pundits bemoaning a film that wasn’t screened for critics. Studio PRs might tell you it amounts to little more than embittered reviewers venting about having to pay out of their own pocket to see a new release, but more often than not, it indicates a film that the studio is not happy with, and one which they know will be sunk by negative reviews prior to release. The Cold Light of Day, a shockingly inept thriller from Mabrouk El Mechri – whose last film, JCVD, was one of 2008’s big surprises – is little more than a showcase for our new Man of Steel, Henry Cavill, and a pretty terrible one at that.
If there’s one thing that Mechri’s film conveys well, it is Cavill’s physical prowess and chiseled good looks. He looks good running around shooting people, but we get little insight into how he functions as an actor because, frankly, he, like everyone else involved, doesn’t seem to know what to do with the painfully rote script. The jury on him will likely remain out until Zack Snyder’s film releases, one imagines.
Cavill plays Will Shaw, a young Wall Street trader who is taking time away from work to spend a holiday in Spain with the family he never sees; his mother, father (Bruce Willis), brother and brother’s girlfriend. Soon enough, his family winds up missing, and Will has to juggle the interests of two feuding sides – both looking for a mysterious briefcase – in order to leverage their release.
Quite ironically, this is a film so bad that the specious preamble is in fact the most interesting component; the sun-kissed locales are pleasant, and some of the verbal sparring between Cavill and Willis is potent enough, suggesting an uncomfortable past lying beneath the surface. However, it is never mentioned again once the kidnap narrative begins, as it is no longer convenient to bloat out this woefully malnourished story.
One of the film’s biggest missteps is the shockingly drab cinematography employed during night scenes; it reeks suspiciously of horrifically executed day-for-night photography (where scenes are shot during the day due to constraints and altered in post-production), rendering several scenes – specifically Will’s fracas with the Spanish police – virtually incomprehensible.
Once the first act passes, the film makes another mistake, bringing Cavill squarely to the focus – and anyone who has seen the trailer will probably know what that means – yet not giving us much of a reason to care about his bland character, or get behind his derivative thriller film cliché cause. In the picture’s latter half, soap opera drama and “shocking” revelations ensue, but when they’re not achingly predictable, they’re laughable, delivered with a faux-gravitas that makes you applaud only Cavill’s miraculous ability to spout it all with a straight face.
By the third act, it becomes punishingly clear that most everyone is in it for the payday; Sigourney Weaver, playing a shady operative, is forced to shout “Come on!” repeatedly in a car chase (apparently for our benefit, as nobody else is within shouting distance of her), while Bruce Wilis comes across as mostly sedated in his surprisingly short screen time. Cavill, however, goes the other way, opting for an equally distracting, over-enthusiastic approach.
At least it’s only 94 minutes long, but for every minute, it plays out with the not-bothered laziness of a straight-to-video Steven Seagal film. It is an embarrassment for all involved, and a film one expects they will want to have buried as fast as possible. At least Cavill’s work in Man of Steel will hopefully look all the more spectacular compared to this.
The only thing shabbier than the dull, near-incomprehensible night-time cinematography is the shopworn script.