Paul Walker felt the need to remind us that, in between “Fast & Furious” movies, he didn’t have to play second banana to the likes of Vin Diesel.
So sure, he did the occasional offbeat ensemble picture (“Pawn Shop Chronicles”). But he was more drawn to film where he shares the screen with pretty much no one.
“Vehicle 19″ had him dashing through South Africa in the wrong rental car.
And “Hours”, a film that opens just days after his tragic death, is just Walker and a big, empty New Orleans hospital in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It’s a slackly-paced thriller about a father struggling to keep the ventilator his newborn baby is in powered up until they can be rescued or she can breathe on her own.
Wife Abigail (Genesis Rodriguez) goes into labor early, just as Katrina is about to hit New Orleans and St. Mary’s Hospital.
The staff is unhurried and unworried. Even as the winds blow out the windows in the waiting room, there is no chaos, no huge influx of patients and no panic. That’s a nearly fatal flaw in writer-director Eric Heisserer’s handling of this can’t-miss situation. There’s no urgency to it.
As the winds howl (actually, we don’t hear them) and the lights flicker, the doctor (Yohance Myles) ineptly breaks the news to Nolan (Walker) that A) he has a little girl and B) by the way, we lost your wife.
This may be the worst written scene in an American movie this year. No pathos, no guilt, no worry about a lawsuit that this bungling will do nothing to discourage. The doctors and nurses put the “Easy” in Big Easy and never suggest being overwhelmed enough to leave bodies on the floor outside the morgue.
Nolan staggers into grief and shock. And slowly, VERY slowly, he discovers purpose. He’s lost his wife. He can’t lose their baby.
As the waters rise, and the TV news reports (which Nolan doesn’t see) document the REAL catastrophe of Katrina, the hospital evacuates. But there’s no way to move the baby, and Nolan has to stay and see to it that her ventilator keeps working. The next 48 hours are critical.
“You’ll know you’re out of danger when she starts crying.”
Nolan hallucinates flashbacks with his wife, the way they “met cute” way back when. He talks to the baby, telling her the life story of her parents. He struggles to find batteries and IV fluids, to keep the batteries charged with a hand-cranked generator when the lights go out.
“I can DO this.”
Time passes very slowly when you’ve got no cell service. Will they be rescued? Will the anarchy that spread through the ruined city reach the hospital?
There’s not a lot of suspense until the film’s third act, when the pace picks up and the number of obstacles to their success rise. We never learn what Nolan does for a living, and there are no real “MacGuyver” moments of jury-rigged problem solving. Surprises are few and far between.
Earnest and heartfelt as his performance is, Walker has few “big” scenes, no memorable dialogue and plays up the exhaustion, which tamps down the emotions of his performance. So even an action packed finale can’t rescue this dramatically thin exercise in one-man showmanship. At 96 minutes, “Hours” only seems like it’s hours longer than that.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, violence and drug material
Cast: Paul Walker, Genesis Rodriguez
Credits: Written and directed by Eric Heisserer . A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:36