Ethan Hawke plays Travis Conrad, a retired hitman reeled back in to do one last job in 24 Hours to Live, a violent, fast-paced thriller that initially seems slick and well-produced if much too conventional.
But that’s where title comes in: Hawke’s character obtains key intel but is almost immediately shot and killed, so his shady employers – merc buddy Jim (Paul Anderson) and corporate head Wetzler (Game of Thrones‘ Liam Cunningham) – bring him back from the dead in order to complete the job.
Well, that’s an unusual twist.
Travis seems just fine, though a ticking-clock digital display embedded inside his arm helpfully lets him know when he’ll return to the grave. Beats a Casio. Unlike Crank or its sequel, where Jason Statham’s lead needed to keep his heart beating in order to stay alive, Hawke’s character is given no hope to extend his life, and only the titular 24 hours to complete his bucket list.
That includes a change of heart – literally, perhaps – as Travis decides the shady South African corporation that he’s been pulling off hits for ain’t so hot, and he ought to use his time to protect his initial target (Aidan Whytock), who can deliver testimony that will reveal their experiments on live humans.
That includes assisting the security agent (Qing Xu) who previously shot him dead – and taking out waves upon waves of corporate mercenaries in the process.
Fast-paced and filled with wall-to-wall violent action, 24 Hours to Live is a lot better than its title might indicate. The fight scenes are particularly well-choreographed and make use of great practical effects and stuntwork, and put many bigger-budgeted movies to shame.
24 Hours to Live is the second film from Brian Smrz, whose career as a stuntman goes back three decades and who served as second unit director on blockbusters like X-Men: Apocalypse and Iron Man 3. If it doesn’t live up to the likes of a John Wick, it comes awfully close.
Hawke, Cunningham, and Anderson lend the film more credibility than the material calls for; their final scenes together are surprisingly cathartic for this kind of movie. Rutger Hauer shows up in a couple nice, if brief, scenes as Conrad’s father-in-law.
Nice location filming across a range of South African locales (from cinematographer Ben Nott, frequent Spierig Brothers collaborator) lends the film an exotic feel.
Released in foreign territories ahead of its US debut, 24 Hours to Live might not come with a lot of confidence from its distributor, but it’s perfect fare for fans of this kind of thing.