by Rob DiCristino
The Redboxing gods can often be cruel and unforgiving. They can punish us for our curiosity and berate us for our ignorance. They can trick us into watching The Last Face* just to laugh at our misfortune. But sometimes — not often — but sometimes, the Redboxing gods are kind and just. Sometimes they reward us for our patience and fortitude with gifts like 24 Hours to Live, a film that feels like — as we’re wont to joke around here — it was written and directed by an actual Redbox. The 2017 thriller (the second feature from accomplished stunt coordinator Brian Smrz, his first since 2008’s Hero Wanted) was released to VOD by Lionsgate and stars Ethan Hawke as a retired assassin called back into service for One Last Job. Did you hear that? A Lionsgate VOD release starring Ethan Hawke? That’s a Redboxing hat trick; it would be irresponsible not to take it for a spin. Throw in a sexy, ass-kicking Interpol agent (Qing Xu), a long-haired, beach-lounging Rutger Hauer, and Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham (glorified cameos though the latter two parts may be), and things can only get more interesting.
To truly appreciate what works about 24 Hours to Live, we have to start by admitting that it’s nothing special. There are no revelatory performances or explosive, genre-defining stunt sequences. The film blends John Wick with Taken and Crank in a fairly straightforward and serviceable way that, though never reaching the unique heights of those films (and certainly lacking their character), acknowledges them as influences and pays its respects. But this economy of vision and execution is actually one of 24 Hours’ major advantages: it never pushes too hard or goes too far. Smrz and his team understand their exact capabilities and play to their strengths in nearly every moment, stripping out the extraneous bullshit without shorting the story or characters or cutting corners production-wise. The action scenes are small in scale — the best being a pair of shoot-outs — and they’re staged and shot with a clean, dynamic quality that reflects an intelligent consideration of the camera’s ability to create depth and scale. This sounds really rudimentary and obvious, but it’s amazing how often these scenes feel flat and rushed in films twice this size. Smrz’s respect for his game is refreshing.
Fury Road hallucinations involving his son fail to coalesce into anything thematically interesting (aside from influencing his decision to help Lin) and the mechanics of the 24-hour lifespan procedure are never a meaningful concern (a favorable comparison would be the heart-restarting side quests in the Crank series). But again, 24 Hours to Live avoids stepping in it because none of these bits hang too lose or create any serious plot holes. Maybe Smrz (along with screenwriters Zach Dean, Jim McClain, and Ron Mita) knew enough not to get buried in the minutiae.
Predestination, a fascinating movie that we’re still not talking enough about), but he comes to play and adds a well-deserved sense of legitimacy to the whole affair. The movie is earnest and professional, there’s a fun twist at the end, and Ser Davos is the bad guy! What do you want? To return to the initial premise, it’s a Redboxing Classic, the kind of gem you hope to scoop up while no one else is looking. It’s not Oscar Prestige or Bargain-Bin Trash; it’s that happy place in the middle. That Redboxing place.
*The worst film ever made.