As the minutes slowly tick by in the lifeless thriller “Cold Blood,” it’s easy to mourn for what might have been. Jean Reno stars as Henry, a veteran hitman seeking isolation in a remote cabin in the Pacific Northwest, which could have made for a contemplative and melancholy reimagining of his signature role in Luc Besson’s “Léon: The Professional.” When Henry is forced to care for a mysterious, injured woman who interrupts his solitude, one envisions a close-quarters psychological cat-and-mouse game between two dangerous and deeply secretive people. It turns out we get neither of those, just a bland and forgettable B-movie that came and went quickly in France last May and looks to do the same upon its day-and-date release in the U.S.
Reno, who turns 71 this month, hasn’t burned through the credibility he amassed with the cool kids during his long-ago career peak working with Besson. He still represents added value, especially when livening up supporting roles. But with “Cold Blood,” he’s not only repeating himself, he’s doing it with a script (written by the film’s director Frédéric Petitjean) that’s stubbornly disinterested in putting any spin on the world-weary hitman scenario, leaving the actor with little to work with.
His character does know how to field dress a deer and perform minor surgery, though, both of which will come in handy after a young woman crashes her snowmobile near his cabin. With civilization 70 miles away, Henry is compelled to carry her inside, remove large splinters of wood from her leg and nurse her back to health. The convalescing stranger initially lies about her name, then fesses up that it’s Charlie (Sarah Lind). Henry dutifully washes Charlie’s clothes, rustles up her food and gets her walking again, niceties that continue despite both parties seeming to distrust the other.
Reno and Lind work fine together, but Petitjean never solves the problem of how to maintain viewer involvement when two characters stuck in one location can’t divulge any information about themselves. So more interesting, if only by default, is Henry’s earlier assassination of a wealthy industrialist and the resulting police investigation. On the case is Kappa (Joe Anderson, his New Yawk attitude a bit much), recently transferred from the Big Apple to Washington state for reasons never made entirely clear. He and his partner Davies (Ihor Ciszkewycz) eventually discover that the murdered man has an heir. Kappa’s conversation with the dead man’s amnesiac wife (Samantha Bond from “Downton Abbey,” an oasis in her one scene) reveals that the heir is a woman named Charlie.
Generic, character-deficient and lacking in suspense or thrills, “Cold Blood” never kicks into gear. The film, shot mostly in Ukraine, is also sloppy around the edges. Many of the Eastern European players are obviously dubbed while others affect unconvincing American accents, both of which are distracting. The French-born Petitjean’s English-language script is filled with stilted dialogue and empty profundities, unless one finds existential significance in Charlie wondering, “Is it necessary for a mountaineer to be so serious when he chops wood?” There’s even a typo in a text sent by crisply attired Euro-intellect Brigleur (François Guétary) to a henchman whose childhood friendship with Charlie is vaguely noted in one line of dialogue and then completely forgotten.
The only standout work here is by cinematographer Thierry Arbogast. Luc Besson’s longtime DP (“Léon” and “The Fifth Element”) emphasizes the beauty and isolation of Henry’s wintry cabin while his pulsating orange and purple-hued bursts of steam bring style to an assassination in a sauna.
Early in “Cold Blood,” to establish that he’s not your run of the mill hitman, Henry is seen reading Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” One of the key takeaways of that 5th-century BC military strategy manual is to “ponder and deliberate before you make a move.” Jean Reno, whose reputation will only suffer the slightest ding after this lackluster outing quickly fades from memory, should ponder and deliberate a little harder the next time he’s asked to play an aging hitman.