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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, July 25, 2014

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Henry Cavill in "The Cold Light of Day," in theaters now.
Henry Cavill in "The Cold Light of Day," in theaters now.

"The Cold Light of Day" thankfully fades from memory

There's a place in the world for incredibly generic action thrillers. Normally, it's the direct-to-DVD rack at Best Buy, but on a few rare occasions, an utterly bland script gets a big enough budget and some stars to get a spot in theaters.

"The Cold Light of Day" fits nicely into this subcategory of vanilla action films. It boasts some well-known actors (Bruce Willis, Sigourney Weaver, Henry Cavill), and the lack of publicity ensures the film will be doomed at the box office. However, even with the bar set so low an ant would struggle to get under it, this incredibly incompetent thriller still manages to fall short of its almost non-existent expectations.

Cavill stars as Will, a bland young Wall Street trader heading out to Spain for a relaxing sailing vacation with his family, including his constantly disapproving dad (Willis). Things get significantly less comfortable, however, after Will returns from town one afternoon to find the family's boat completely abandoned. It turns out Will's family has been kidnapped by some CIA thugs who want a briefcase from Willis' secret CIA past. It's up to Will, with the help of a mysterious local woman (Veronica Echegui), to get the briefcase and free his family (and his brother's girlfriend, who was along for the trip, but no one seems to care about her very much).

The set-up isn't particularly new and offers nothing in terms of surprises. In fact, the only surprising thing about "The Cold Light of Day" is how inept its routine basic story elements are handled. The establishment of Will's family in the beginning is very clunky, consisting almost entirely of shots of an grumpy, unshaven Willis looking disappointed. Audiences will share that look of disappointment as well when they find out Willis is only in the movie for the first act.

Thanks to the weak establishing scenes, the audience doesn't care much about Will's dilemma, and as the story goes on and becomes more convoluted, even that dwindling interest will fade away. The script, written by Scott Wiper and John Petro, is remarkably vague about who is chasing who and what the stakes are. The cops seem to be after Will, but we don't really know why. Will also keeps talking about running out of time, though a timeframe for retrieving the briefcase hasn't been established either. It's hard to care about the story when the scriptwriters themselves don't seem to care much either.

The audience can only hope the action makes "The Cold Light of Day" worthwhile, but that falls on its face as well. Director Mabrouk El Mechri (who previously directed the strangely fascinating Jean Claude Van Damme meta-thriller "JCVD") shows very little skill behind the camera for basic techniques, much less slick action. An early nighttime chase scene is so poorly lit, it's almost impossible to see what's happening (Unfortunately, it's also Bruce Willis' lone action scene. It's extremely dark, though, so for all I know, it could have been somebody else). The rest of the action scenes, though better lit, don't fare much better with El Mechri's tendency for Bourne-light shaky cam.

El Mechri doesn't have much talent for working with his actors as well. Every performance in the movie seems bored or flat. Willis just stares angrily with no hint of the charisma that made John McClane so revered. In his last film before he takes the title role in next year's "Man of Steel," Cavill seems lost and aimless. The story doesn't help him much there – it often doesn't seem to know what Will is supposed to be doing next – but he's about as colorless an action hero as you can get. Most embarrassing is Sigourney Weaver, who is clearly as uninterested with the film as the audience.

It's remarkable to see a movie that aims so embarrassingly low and still struggle to hit the mark. "The Cold Light of Day"'s lone redeeming element is that it's so generic and so by-the-books that it's instantly forgettable.

The most interesting (though interesting probably isn't the right word) aspect of the film is the release. After months of plans for a limited release, Summit decided to throw the barely advertised thriller into several more theaters. Perhaps they should have taken a page from "The Apparition's" book (that's the only time I'll say that) and buried this damp squib where it couldn't see the light of day.

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