Liam Neeson was the go-to guy for tacky Euro-thrillers about dogged Americans shooting up the Continent in pursuit of vanished family members. But every baton, if not every dodgy subgenre, must be passed, so it’s Superman-in-waiting, Henry Cavill, who gets to shoulder this cheerfully preposterous chase movie about a young Californian whose sunny Mediterranean family holiday is rudely interrupted by inscrutable espionage hijinks.
Sensibly rationing his facial expressions at this early stage in his career, 28-year-old Cavill lacks Neeson’s gruff authority but looks better in a tight T-shirt. For the purposes of ‘JCVD’ director Mabrouk El Mechri’s film, those are equal assets.
Cavill plays Will, reluctantly pulled from business troubles to spend a week with his parents and brother on the family sailing boat in Spain, where his taciturn dad Martin (Bruce Willis) is stationed as a cultural attaché. Struggling to buy Willis as a cultural attaché? Don’t worry, he’s actually a corrupt CIA agent, a truth Will learns the hard way after returning from an errand to find both boat and family missing.
Seems Martin has come between international spies and a mysterious briefcase also wanted by shifty agency boss Sigourney Weaver. Before you can say, or rather sigh, ‘McGuffin’, Martin is shot dead and Will is left in Madrid to puzzle things out alone. Well, not entirely alone: there’s also a newly discovered half-sister (Verónica Echegui), whose assistance is limited to shrieking his name (‘Wheel’, apparently) when things get perilous.
It all boils down to a series of riotously extended showdowns between Cavill and Weaver, who’s phoning it in splendidly here: ‘I’m getting sick of this,’ she mutters venomously, after mowing down an entire town square with her semi-automatic. The actress may be speaking her mind, but she gives this silly potboiler whatever juice it’s got.