In the new action thriller 24 Hours to Live, the first time we see Ethan Hawke’s hitman Travis Conrad is getting wasted on a beach alongside his father-in-law (Rutger Hauer). This particular hitman is taking a sabbatical from his occupation of murder for hire to mourn the anniversary of the death of his wife and child by drowning his sorrows with a combination of drink and drugs. While Ethan Hawke may not be the kind of actor who emits the machismo of grizzled badass, but the veteran actor is more than capable to bring the more tragic elements of this character to the forefront in Brian Smrz’s silly, predictable and yet entertaining international action production.
Travis Conrad’s pre-planned bender of grief is interrupted when his old friend and comrade-in-arms Jim Morrow (Paul Anderson) arrives with a lucrative proposal. At the rate of a million dollars a day, Travis must track down Lin (Qing Xu), a lethal secret agent tasked with protecting Keith Zera (Tyrone Keough), a soldier set to give a deposition against Travis’ deep-pocketed employers. Travis travels to Cape Town, South Africa where tracks down Lin at an airport bar. He puts the charm on heavily and takes his target out to dinner before taking her back to his hotel that evening. Except he gets cold feet when it comes to completing his assigned task of murder for hire. However, she quickly deduces his intention and in a shootout out front of the hotel Lin shoots Travis, killing him. This, mind you, all occurs within the first 20 minutes of 24 Hours to Live.
You’d think the death of the main character might be the end of the story, but 24 Hours to Live and the screenplay Zach Dean, Jim McClain, and Ron Mita has a rather clever little work around – Travis Conrad is suddenly revived by a new medical procedure. But there’s a catch: the revival procedure only works for 24 hours, after which Travis will die. With his limited time left on this planet, Travis Conrad will seek redemption for his life of murder for hire, offering to assist Lin in protecting Keith and doing all he can to bring down his former wealthy and powerful boss Wetzler (Liam Cunningham).
24 Hours to Live isn’t a high-concept work of action filmmaking, but it’s right to the point in its straightforward approach to its premise and providing the audience with a handful of pretty fun sequences of action violence. Brian Smrz is a stuntman-turned-director and delivers some decent action sequences. Smrz’s work doesn’t compare to another stuntman-turned-director in Chad Stahelski, but it’s a more disciplined form of action filmmaking than most stuff made on a moderate budget.
Sometimes the plotting is rather obvious. The setups in the final act especially are right out the action movie screenwriter’s handbook. The complications and reveals that occur will surprise no one. And yet 24 Hours to Live works because it knows exactly what kind of movie it is and Ethan Hawke is solid as the action hero who is degenerating before our very eyes, his physical pain finally matching his emotional pain. I was never surprised by anything that occurred in 24 Hours to Live but I was never bored as Ethan Hawke’s weathered hero amasses a rather large and blood-soaked body count.