Good actors making their living in the nether regions of the cinematic mainstream are an ongoing fascination for me.
Nicolas Cage, Oscar winner and C-movie mainstay, John Cusack donning and endless selection of baseball caps to hide the inevitabilities of time, filming in BFE Australia or Argentina, Wesley Snipes in exile, any actress over 40 who finds a way to put off a cable series or endless “Blue Bloods” “recurrings — take on the characteristics of the characters they play.
Drifting, staying employed, working in the less fashionable corners of South Africa, Australia or Romania, cashing Chinese production company checks just to keep going.
Ethan Hawke‘s a drunken, grieving hit-man who loses a gunfight on the job and gets a second lease on life via science in “24 Hours to Live,” a Chinese-financed/South African thriller.
We meet him on the beach in the Florida Keys — one of those Coast of Namibia locales that looks nothing like the Florida Keys. He’s drunk with an old pal (Rutger Hauer), a sage who counsels, “You have no SOUL,” and “All rivers run into the sea, if the sea is not full.”
Travis (Hawke) has to pour his wife and son’s ashes into the aptly-named Hawk Channel, or what passes for it, and get back to work — “Wet Work.”
So much for feeling sorry for him. He’s a high-priced hitman sent to silence a witness (Tyrone Keogh) in the custody of an Interpol agent (Xu Qing) in Africa. The mercenary contracting firm “Red Mountain” (Blackwater?) needs this done to cover up its crimes in Africa.
That’s how Travis “dies,” seducing and then getting shot by Agent Lin (Qing). Until Dr. Helen (Nathalie Boltt of “Riverdale”) brings him back. With a catch. The drug and surgery cocktail wh administered “has a built-in fail-safe.”
He’s only got “24 Hours to Live.”
Hawke has to shoot, stab and otherwise mayhem his way out of the the Red Mountain “treatment” center and make some use of his last 24 hours. He hallucinates visions of his dead wife and son, stare at the handy 24 hour digital clock stitched into his arm and right some of the wrongs of his life.
So it’s “D.O.A.” or “Crank” or any movie about the doomed trying to get even, get some peace or get some more time and maybe a little redemption for their past sins in the process.
Travis races the hired killers who have taken over his contract through South Africa, lawless South African traffic and the same green 1999 Jeep Cherokee that shows up in background shot after background shot.
He has flashbacks of every killing he’s ever carried out, every memory of his late lady love. And he’s going to “save” the man he was hired to kill and the woman who “killed” him.
For a few hours, at least.
“We need to get you to a hospital.”
“It’s a little late for that.”
Paul Anderson plays Jim the rival hit man with a posh South African office with a view (which he trashes) on their trail. A cute touch? The phone password each man uses to check in with their employers.
Travis? “Yankees Suck.”
Jim? “Red Sox Suck.”
Yeah, they’re both right.
It’s strictly C-movie stuff, all shootouts and chases and hallucinations. It brings to mind a couple of later films starring the late Paul Walker, “Hours” and “Vehicle 19.”
Hawke manages a few grace notes, Qing, first seen in The West in “Life on a String,” best-known for “Looper,” handles the action scenes well, and speaks in a Hong Kong British accent that seems dubbed, but may not be. Nigerian actor Hakeem Kae-Kazim makes a wonderful impression as a South African underworld figure who knows where the bodies are buried. Formidable Irish character actor Liam Cunningham is the perfectly-bearded Mr. Big villain in charge.
Townships, slo-mo shootouts, Afrikaans’ accented mercenaries and “evidence” transported in a succession of SUV convoys , a kidnapping and absurd coincidences, the action movie cliches are folded into some pretty decent local color and some of the more obvious “obligatory Chinese content” you’ll see.
Can’t say it’s all that because it isn’t. But for fans of the very narrow subgenre I outlined in the opening paragraph, it’s a tolerable Hawke time-killer.
MPAA Rating:R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and some drug use
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Xu Qing, Paul Anderson, Rutger Hauer
Credits:Directed by Brian Smrz , script by on Mita, Jim McClain, Zach Dean.. A Saban Films release.
Running time: 1:33