Travis Conrad is a bit like Edmond O’Brien in D.O.A., except he knows exactly who killed him and why. Frankly, he would be the first to admit he had it coming, so when his shadowy employers give him a brief extension, he will ironically spend it protecting the Interpol agent who shot him dead. Redemption better not dally in Brian Smrz’s 24 Hours to Live (trailer here), which is now playing in New York.
Even though he still grieves for his wife and little boy, Conrad agrees to come back and do one last assignment for the Red Mountain merc agency. They are offering two million very good reasons. The job is to rub out a former operative turning state’s evidence in South Africa, but Lin Bisset, his Hong Kong-based Interpol handler has proved unusually resourceful thus far. Conrad tries to get to the target through Bisset, but he just cannot stomach killing the single mother, so she does him instead.
However, mean old Wetzler at Red Mountain secretly funded a project to bring back the recently deceased for twenty-four hours. The plan was to revive Conrad, extract the safe house location, and then put him down again, but the groggy assassin goes rogue before they can get to the third step. Rather disappointed in his colleagues, Conrad decides to protect the understandably distrustful Bisset and her witness, as a means of getting a little payback for the crummy things Red Mountain did to him.
So yes, Ethan Hawke sort of plays a zombie as Conrad, the dead man walking. Be that as it may, Smrz downplays any possible science fiction or horror angles, doubling down on action instead. Indeed, this definitely looks like a film helmed by a longtime stunt-performer, which it is. There is no nauseating shaky-cam to endure. His fight scenes and shoot-outs are crisply and clearly executed.
Hawke is decently hardboiled, but Xu Qing (a.k.a. Summer Qing) really emerges as the action star. As Bisset, she demonstrates impressive dramatic and action chops. We really pull for her rather than Conrad. Usually Liam Cunningham makes a reliably flamboyantly villain, but he sacks off a bit as Wetzler. On the other hand, Paul Anderson really makes things interesting playing the morally conflicted Jim Morrow, Conrad’s supposed friend and former supervisor. Rutger Hauer is mostly misused and under-employed as Conrad’s genial father-in-law, but at least he has a nice Hobo-with-a-shotgun moment.
Believe it or not, 24HTL is way better than you think it is. Granted, this is probably much more of a VOD release than a theatrical happening, but as a working-class action film, it has its merits. Smrz definitely knows what he is doing, while Xu and Anderson elevate the whole show. Recommended for action fans, 24 Hours to Live is now playing in New York, at the Village East.