These days Hollywood thrillers follow the same simple formula of breakneck-paced action sequences in exotic locales for some of the highest stakes imaginable. While The Kovak Box does sport an exotic, foreign setting and some race against the clock sequences, the film stands apart from typical Hollywood genre fare due to an additional moral dilemma the hero faces.
Writer David Norton (Timothy Hutton) has been invited to speak at a conference on the Spanish island of Mallorca. But the joy of this working vacation is shattered when his fiancée (Georgia Mackenzie) inexplicably leaps to her death from their hotel balcony. Investigating what could have driven her to do such a thing, David discovers that there have been numerous mysterious suicides. Joining forces with Silvia (Lucia Jimenez), a woman who survived a suicide attempt she is unable to explain, he soon discovers that the suicides are part of a much larger plot designed to place him in a position where he holds the power of life and death over hundreds of people he never met.
The script here is smart and engaging, a techno-thriller that plays off of fears of Big Brother-style government intrusion with a dash of Stephen King’s Misery thrown in for spice. And while the villain’s ultimate aim may come off as a tad ludicrous, the film builds solidly, almost Hitchcock-like, to the reveal, earning its right to stretch the audience’s “suspension of disbelief.” But what really works in the script is the “between a rock and a hard place” moral gray zone that David finds himself in courtesy of the antagonist’s machinations. Too often thrillers simply charge the hero with defeating the bad guy and his dastardly plot, usually while causing as much cinematic mayhem as possible. Here, however, David finds himself trapped into having to violate his own personal beliefs in order to save the lives of others. It is a nice addition to bring suspense to an otherwise well-traveled situation.
Timothy Hutton might not be the first name to spring to mind for the heroic lead in a thriller, but he acquits himself nicely here. He brings a certain lightness and devil-may-care attitude to his character that gets shattered by the death of his fiancée. As he descends into his investigation, Hutton brings his acting chops into play to convincingly the moral dilemma his character finds himself in.