In between Richard Linklater films and Broadway stints, Ethan Hawke seemingly can’t resist playing the action hero. The character actor’s portfolio contains some surprising hits like Daybreakers, The Purge and The Magnificent Seven. All of which capitalised on Hawke’s inherent charm and vulnerability. Even his turn in gritty crime drama Training Day, saw his determined cop Jake tempered by naivete and sycophancy. 24 Hours to Live seeks then to drop Hawke’s lovable persona into some of the most high-octane action of his career.
Hawke plays Travis Conrad, a wetwork specialist for Red Mountain, a Blackwater-esque Private Military Company. When one of Red Mountain’s soldiers gives up vital intel to Xu Qing’s Interpol agent, Travis is hired to take them both out. Which he then proceeds to royally screw up and get himself killed. Fortunately, Red Mountain has been working on a new experiment to revive dead soldiers. The bad news is it only keeps them alive another 24 hours, leaving Travis with less than a day to save Qing and her young son and take down Red Mountain for good.
If all this sounds a little hokey, it’s because it is. The whole ‘24 hours’ ticking clock element exists only to add a sense of urgency and make Travis more empathetic. Which makes you wonder why they’ve hired one of the most empathetic actors in the business. Much less saddled him with both PTSD and the tragic backstory of a dead wife and son. True to his talents though Hawke remains a likable presence throughout; laid-back, funny and suitably flustered by some of the more absurd action scenes. What’s surprising is just how much he commits when the action suddenly stops being all fun and games. Hawke (and his stunt double) acquit themselves convincingly in the hand-to-hand combat and the intense performance he brings is on par with Stallone and Willis.
Make no mistake, 24 Hours to Live is an action film first and foremost and on the action, it delivers. Everything in is tinged in a Michael Bay shade of amber, bullets tear through the scenery and blood is spilled in big bright splatter-effects. Stuntman turned director Brian Smrz knows how to shoot an action scene and once again he proves himself to be technically accomplished, if a little uninspired. Much like Bay’s work everything is just a little too intense to take in. It doesn’t help that we’re never given enough time with Qing to empathise with her character. So, seeing Hawke ferry her from one frenetically shot set-piece to another never manages to engage on an emotional level. That said, the action is easy enough to follow and the sheer spectacle is satisfying on a purely visual level.
24 Hours to Live won’t change your life but as a big dumb, action film there have certainly been worse. At a tight 93-minutes the film never leaves you bored or becomes so derivative it’s obnoxious. Hawke is pretty much carrying the whole endeavour but seeing him commit so much to such an unironically shallow role is worth the time. Plus, it features Rutger Hauer as Travis’s shotgun-toting stepdad, and how many films can you say that about?