Next summer, the chiseled British actor Henry Cavill will try to restart the “Superman” franchise in a single bound, in “Man of Steel.” For now, though, he’s stuck playing Clark Kent in “The Cold Light of Day,” a limply formulaic action-thriller that wastes a pretty good cast and lovely Spanish locations.
The idea’s solid if well-worn: What would you do if your tough-as-nails father turned out to be a CIA agent and your family yachting vacation got spoiled by a kidnapping? The relationship between Will Shaw (Cavill) and his old man, Marty (Bruce Willis), is already fraught without mom (Caroline Goodall), younger brother (Rafi Gavron), and brother’s girlfriend (Emma Hamilton) getting spirited away to a dank basement by swarthy mystery men.
It’s all mysterious payback for dad’s undercover past, and while Will and his father initially team up to beat the kidnapper’s 24-hour deadline, soon the son is on his own. He has no idea what’s going on and he doesn’t speak Spanish, but what Will does possess is a miraculous ability to take multiple beatings, get shot in the spleen, survive car crashes, and ping-pong off at least three metal balconies after falling from a roof — all without breaking a bone or losing his good looks. Maybe he is Superman.
There’s a briefcase everyone wants — of course there is — some nastily efficient Mossad agents, and a traitorous CIA official played by, of all people, Sigourney Weaver. What in God’s name is she doing here, in what may not be her worst movie but is possibly her most wayward? In cases like this (random appearances in junk movies by actors who should know better), one usually assumes there are tuition bills to pay, and, look at that, a quick stop at the Internet Movie Database reveals that Weaver has a daughter who was college-aged when the film was shot two years ago. But I digress.
Obviously realizing what she has stepped in, Weaver musters a surprising amount of enjoyment from her role, whooping it up while shooting an Uzi at the hero from behind the wheel of an onrushing Range Rover. The movie could use the jolt, since Cavill is handsome but largely inert and Willis takes his paycheck and disappears. A sort-of romance with a local woman (Verónica Echegui) is nipped in the bud by a further revelation about dear old dad.
Director Mabrouk El Mechri made the interestingly bizarre meta-action movie “JCVD” in 2008, but “The Cold Light of Day” is pure potboiler, paced at one frantic speed and daubed with pointless visual flourishes. It’s watchable enough, and landmarks like the Madrid Post Office and Puerto del Sol are captured with glossy fleetness, but no attempt is made to disguise the fact that we’ve seen it all many times before. At one point, Weaver snarls at Will, “You [expletive] amateur!” The movie’s more professional than its hero, but not by much.Ty Burr can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.