The first cool image of “Cold Blood” comes after “the girl” has had her snowmobile accident, after she’s crawled, battered and bleeding-out, towards a remote cabin.
Feet come up to her, and from her point of view, looking up from her belly, she sees the man those feet belong to. He is Jean Reno, the hawk-featured French action star of “La Femme Nikita,” “Leon: The Professional” and “Ronin.”
And he’s not looking down at her, tending to her injuries, whispering words of help and hope. He’s turning, looking into the distance, offering her and us first one profile and then the other. He’s wondering if somebody dropped her here, if she’s the bait for yet another trap.
The stubble may be white, the piercing eyes have hollowed out over the decades. But the black stocking cap is still there, and the intense focus. He may call his character “Henry,” and be smarter, or at least deeper than the hitman/savant, the “cleaner” of Luc Besson’s “La Femme Nikita” and “The Professional.” But he’s still the last guy you want to run into in a steam room at your “club.”
That’s what sets events in motion in this convoluted thriller from first-time writer/director Frédéric Petitjean — a murder in the steam.
“Cold Blood” is a Franco-Ukrainian production, which explains the snowy wilderness, the struggling bit players and extras trying to manage something like a New York or Spokane accent.
There are traces of such popular thrillers as “Hanna” and “The American,” though both of those manage more suspense, more harrowing action and make more sense.
The “girl” is Melody (Sarah Lind of “The Exorcism of Molly Hartley” and TV’s “True Justice”), and when she awakens she has a few questions to answer — or dodge — starting with the obvious.
Him: “Why are you here?”
Her: “I’m sorry. I’ll leave as soon as I can.”
He gets testy, asking why he shouldn’t just toss her in the frozen lake so that “they can fish you out with the salmon, when the snow melts.”
He doesn’t want her there, and she seems to know why.
Meanwhile, an obsessive cop (British actor Joe Anderson) who recently transferred from New York is badgering his partner (François Guétary) about that New York steam room hit, months ago. The murdered man was rich and buried in Washington State. These cops watched the ceremony.
“According to the manual, the killer should be watching the victim’s funeral.
“‘According to the manual‘…You’ve been watching too much Netflix.”
We’re slipped a few clues as to what twists are coming, and led astray when one of those doesn’t pan out.
Mainly, “Cold Blood” is all about two things, Reno’s menacing screen presence, and locations.
All it takes to fake America in the movies is shipping in a Mustang, a Dodge and a Harley, and beating the bushes to find English speakers to play waitresses, fellow cops and “locals.”
Reno has, over the decades, positioned himself as the French Samuel L. Jackson, Liam Neeson or mid-career Clint Eastwood — badass, hard, not as verbose or profane as Jackson, violent without bothering to make many threats (unlike Neeson).
His character here is saddled with that saddest of “hit man movie” cliches, quoting “The Art of War,” by Sun Tzu, to Melody. That’s been old hat in B-movies since the Golden Age of Wesley Snipes.
Reno gives us the odd hint that wherever his career has gone in recent years, he’s still above this, still able to give a line the proper Gallic flair. Don’t tell Henry that “There’s nothing here.” He takes it personally.
“Waaall, eef nothing means no cars, no noise, no Starbucks, nothing USEless…”
Which explains why I’m still a big fan of the actor, not much of a fan of “Cold Blood.”
MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, profanity
Cast: Jean Reno, Sarah Lind, Joe Anderson, Ihor Ciszkewycz and Samantha Bond
Credits: Written and directed by Frédéric Petitjean. A Screen Media release.
Running time: 1:31