Michael Cooper is a lot like the retired judge in Hardcastle & McCormick, but without the red sports car. His methods for curing recidivism are also a lot more permanent. Unfortunately, he will be forced to work with the regular cops when the young woman he uses as bait is kidnapped by a serial killer in David Raymond’s Night Hunter, which opens this Friday in New York.
Much like Hardcastle, Cooper is a former judge, but personal tragedy drove him to wage vigilante tactics against online predators. His sarcastic ward Lara is only too willing to help him, but the latest creep they try to ensnare turns out to be even more prepared than they are. As a result, the panicked Cooper is forced to request help from local Minnesota police force. Fortunately, Det. Aaron Marshall quickly grasps the gravity of the situation and has the wherewithal to find and rescue Lara, along with another surviving victim.
However, the capture of Simon Stulls does not close the case. Frankly, the twitchy headcase does not seem to be functioning at a sufficiently high level to plan and execute his crimes. The out-of-town profiler (with whom Marshall has some awkward history) is convinced Stulls has more capable multiple personalities buried within him, but there are soon all too tragic reasons to suspect he had an outside accomplice.
Night Hunter features an impressive cast of name-actors, including Henry Cavill, Sir Ben Kingsley, Nathan Fillon, and Stanley Tucci, all playing cops or vigilantes. Obviously, the bad guy or bad guys must be pretty sinister, since they can elude the combined forces of Superman, Gandhi, Castle, and the host of the Hunger Games. In fact, Brendan Fletcher is extraordinarily creepy, even downright unsettling, as the psychotic Stulls. It is a terrific serial killer performance, especially in light of later plot twists.
Cavill is also quite good as Marshall, especially during scenes with Emma Tremblay, who is a real standout as the daughter who constantly tries to draw him out and keep him grounded. Tucci plays Commissioner Harper like a typical Stanley Tucci character, but that is always fun to watch. Kingsley humanizes Cooper, while developing some intriguing surrogate father-daughter chemistry with Eliana Jones, as Lara. On the other hand, neither Alexandra Daddario or her profiler character really bring anything interesting to the table.
In all honesty, Night Hunter is an over-achieving serial killer thriller that deserves more attention than its less-than-blockbuster release will probably garner. Raymond steadily builds the tension, while cinematographer Michael Barrett (who also lensed the uber-glossy Takers) gives it all a sinister sheen. It is a little over-stuffed with characters (don’t blink when Fillon is on-screen), but it succeeds quite nicely as a work of dark suspense. Recommended for fans of psycho-killer thrillers, Night Hunter opens this Friday (9/6) in New York, at the Cinema Village.