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The Cold Light of Day
Starring Henry Cavill, Bruce Willis, Sigourney Weaver

UNWELCOMING FLICK: Bruce Willis is the only saving light in the latest Henry Cavill action movie, “The Cold Light of Day.” Courtesy photos

Finding a new action star hasn’t exactly been an easy task. In the old days, it seemed almost too easy to find a strapping young actor of marginal talent, slap a gun in their hand, and, bam! (quite literally), an action hero was born. Maybe it was an Austrian bodybuilder or a Belgian dancer. Sometimes it was even an out-of-shape middle-aged man who could barely act yet could do a convincing roundhouse kick. My point is, cinematic action heroes rarely required any sense of legitimacy. This has been proven in spades recently by “The Expendables 2.” The modern action hero is a humorless sod, and the movies suffer for it.

Newcomer Henry Cavill (“Immortals”) is of interest mainly because he’s been cast as the new Superman in 2013’s “Man of Steel.” He’s a finely chiseled specimen, like a United Colors of Benetton model with a Tom Wopat smile and the steely blue eyes of a young David Soul. Those references might be a little bit dated. Let me try that in modern speak: like an American Apparel model with a Channing Tatum smile and the steely blue eyes of a young Ryan Gosling.

The plot follows Will Shaw (Cavill), a young man whose life is not exactly ideal. His company is bankrupt, and his professional career is circling the drain. He goes on holiday to spend some time with his family aboard a yacht sailing around Spain. One day he goes for a swim into town. When he comes back to the boat, his family is gone and a series of conspiracies begin to unravel. Will learns his father is actually a CIA agent and his family has been kidnapped. He has to try and retrieve a briefcase, which he can use to negotiate his family’s release. The whole film pulls a lot from the international espionage playbook; none of it feels terribly original.

The film presents an interesting cinematic dichotomy. Henry Cavill represents the future action icon. His father is played by Bruce Willis, who is very much the model of the classic action star of yesteryear. When they’re on camera together it’s painfully obvious which one has the acting chops and which one has a hard time being anything other than semi-convincing eye candy. Even phoning it in, Bruce Willis manages more character and charisma onscreen than Cavill. I suppose that’s a danger when you cast someone so iconic in the patriarchal role. It requires an actor who can bring the same kind of energy and/or charisma. Clearly Cavill isn’t up to the task. He can brood with the best of them and brings a limited amount of intensity to the role, but I never really bought into his character.

His role in the “The Cold Light of Day” is the kind of thankless protagonist that chokes out less-experienced actors. He’s a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, desperate to find answers in order to save his family. This description is apt for so many action films. It requires the actor to bring something extra to the role. You could take the original “Die Hard” as a prime example. The role of John McClane is a pretty cut-and-dry part: a cop who falls face-first into a bad situation, mans up, and saves the day. Thankfully, Bruce Willis brought some swagger to the role. Cavill, along with most modern action heroes, lack badassery—almost to a depressing degree.

But we’re living in a day and age where Matt Damon and the Bourne franchise has set the tone for action thrillers. And “The Cold Light of Day” walks us through these humorless paces one plodding scene at a time. There are shoot-outs, assassinations and car chases, but they’re stitched together with so little care that they are ultimately meaningless. International intrigue and action has never felt so damn recycled. The whole enterprise seems like an attempt to recapture the kind of energy harnessed by movies like “Taken.” A fish out of water has to unleash a few cans of whoop-ass on foreign soil to save his family. The entire production has a “produced by Luc Besson” feel, but Besson would never allow a humorless romp like this one. “The Cold Light of Day” is every bit as unwelcome as the title suggests.

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