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July 13, 2018

24 Hours to Live

by Franz Patrick


24 Hours to Live (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

Here is yet another action fare that offers standard shootouts and vehicular crashes propelled by a curious premise that dips its toes on sci-fi territory. Although this type of material can work, it is not effective in this instance because the idea is treated like a plot convenience rather than one to be explored either as is as a neat idea or as a metaphor for something else—like how our time is currency, for example. What results is a mindless action picture that fails to challenge the viewer. We deserve better.

Ethan Hawke leads the cast as Travis, a contract assassin who remains in mourning over the death of his wife and child. At the night of their passing’s anniversary, the killer on extended vacation is approached by a friend (Paul Anderson), now working for a multi-billion-dollar firm, for a job that would pay a million dollars. The assignment involves the assassination of a whistleblower (Tyrone Keogh), protected by an international agent (Qing Xu), who is about to deliver a deposition to the United Nations against the firm. The task appears to be straightforward and so the hitman-for-hire accepts the job.

Hawke attempts to elevate the material by committing thoroughly to the role. He utilizes his dramatic chops to generate interest in a generic screenplay, to give the poorly written character a semblance of dimension, and to make the sudden shifts between drama and action appear fluid. Despite his efforts, it is obvious that the work is without inspiration. Its aim is to deliver shallow entertainment simply by showering the screen with bullets, crashes, intense masculine stares, and explosions supported by rather decent sound design.

There is not one wrinkle in the screenplay that is surprising or particularly moving. In the middle of it, I wondered what compelled the filmmakers to make the movie. Surely they did not expect the project to be embraced by the mainstream without taking bold risks. When Hawke is not on screen, one gets the impression the film is made for cable TV, if that.

It is further crippled by exhausting hallucinations and quick flashbacks. While the former is written into the script with some context, both elements hinder the forward momentum of the material. Notice that in the middle of an action sequence, these appear out of nowhere. Instead of gathering much-needed tension, the situation is reduced to a deflated balloon. I would argue that even if the action sequences were especially creative, disrupting the flow of what is supposed to be a visceral experience would render the material ineffective. The inherent miscalculation in the screenplay is nearly impossible to overcome in this case.

Directed by Brian Smrz, at least “24 Hours to Live” is not so manically edited that we are either unable to figure out what is going on or the choppiness gets under the skin. The staging of the action, particularly those set on narrow roads and highways, is well done. When the excitement stops, however, there isn’t much to grab onto.

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