By: Hawk Ripjaw (Three Beers) –
Travis Conrad (Ethan Hawke) is a former mercenary on hiatus after the death of his wife and son a year prior. He mostly spends his days drinking on the beach with his father-in-law Frank (Rutger Hauer). Elsewhere, Interpol agent Lin (Qing Xu) is transporting a whistleblower that plans to spill the beans on mercenary organization Red Mountain and some very evil things they do.
Travis is approached in a bar by his old friend Jim (Paul Anderson), now a handler for—who else—Red Mountain, who Travis also worked for. Travis, who is of course the best at what he does and as such is needed for this mission, is tasked with killing this informant (and collecting a hefty paycheck). Lin manages to kill him first after Travis seduces her and gets information on the location of the informant. Red Mountain brings him back to life, but only for 24 hours, in order to get this information from him. During this time his body will systematically shut down before he dies outright. Travis does not play that shit and promptly escapes, deciding to team up with Lin and destroy Red Mountain, along with its sinister leader Wetzler (Liam Cunningham).
24 Hours to Live mostly treads a fine line between camp and drama. A major theme involves Travis’ sorrow over the death of his family, and the occasional drip-feed flashbacks flesh out how that came to be. Likewise, Jim is haunted by guilt as he’s suddenly forced against his former war buddy. There’s pathos to spare, but the movie also understands that this is about a killing machine brought back to life for a single day. It knows how to have fun: Travis logs into his company computer with the key phrase “Yankees suck.” I won’t tell you how Jim logs into his, but even if you don’t guess it ahead of time you won’t be surprised when it happens.
It’s also packed to the gills with loud, visceral and well-staged action. The shootouts and car chases come at a satisfying clip and they’re all very cleanly shot. The finale will be divisive: it mostly ditches the mood of the rest of the film in favor of ludicrous, ultra-violent mayhem. We’re talking two-handguns-pointed-in-opposite-directions action movie stuff, and it feels like a final indulgence in the mercenary’s skills. It works because it’s staged post-MacGuffin and feels liberated from most of the remaining plot baggage.
The marketing for the movie heavily emphasizes the involvement of the producers of action renaissance flick John Wick, and even follows a similar recipe of recruiting a stunt coordinator to direct. Part of that movie’s magic was the level of commitment to worldbuilding, which 24 Hours to Live largely neglects. There are references made to the general nefariousness of Red Mountain without actually going into too much detail, and it ends up feeling a bit like a missed opportunity. With as much scenery as Liam Cunningham gets to chew on as the mustache-twirling Wetzler, Red Mountain feels like it just can’t stack up.
Elements of the script regarding this feel a bit half-baked, as if someone missed a deadline and the movie got made anyway, but the potential for Red Mountain as an awesome criminal organization isn’t capitalized on. Weird, amusing logical fallacies show up here and there.
The wrist clock starts out as an interesting plot device: one of the first things hard-drinking Travis does when realizing the clock in his wrist is running down is dump out a bottle of liquor and get into the car. It prepares for some great forward momentum but never really gets fully realized. Travis occasionally checks the clock to see how much time he has left and it leads to some weird time jumps: in one scene, he has six hours left, and in the next he has two. It breaks the flow just a bit and there’s the feeling that tightening up the focus on that precious, diminishing time would have given the film a greater sense of urgency.
24 Hours to Live is a completely serviceable and enjoyably dumb movie with above-average action sequences that look more expensive than they probably were. Beyond that, it’s nothing more or less than you’d expect. The performances are fine as well, if mostly workmanlike, with Hawke especially bringing his usual energy, Anderson surprisingly watchable, and Cunningham just fun. Xu could be a decent emotional foil for Hawke and her performance is also fine, but they lack chemistry.
This is a movie that seems destined for boozy late-night excursions into VOD offerings, but when it has this much confidence in what it’s doing, it’ll be exactly what someone is looking for.
And isn’t that nice to have now and then?
24 Hours to Live (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Travis has a vision of his wife and son
Do a Shot: for every action movie cliché
Take a Drink: every time Travis checks his wrist clock
Do a Shot: when you think about something that’s happened and it doesn’t quite make sense