For an assassin who’s touted as the best around (commanding a price of $2 million a day to take out a potential corporate whistleblower), Trevor Conrad (Ethan Hawke) doesn’t seem all that impressive during the first half-hour of the silly thriller 24 Hours to Live. He’s so bad at his job, actually, that he straight up gets himself killed at the hands of Interpol agent Lin Bisset (Xu Qing), and not even after a long and exhaustive chase. Luckily, Trevor’s employer, nefarious military contractor Red Mountain, has developed a top-secret procedure that can somehow resurrect the dead for a period of 24 hours, which allows Trevor the extra lifespan referred to in the movie’s title.
Trevor was already pretty mopey for a hitman, mourning the deaths of his wife and son and only reluctantly agreeing to the standard one last job. Getting killed and brought back to life just makes him crankier, and he turns against his employers, helping Lin and former Red Mountain employee Keith Zera (Tyrone Keough) expose the company’s secrets before the digital display implanted in his arm counts down to zero and he expires. That involves some standard action-movie car chases, stand-offs and fight scenes, which director Brian Smrz, a veteran stunt coordinator, stages competently but forgettably.
An international co-production that brings together a semi-bankable American star (Hawke) with a semi-bankable Chinese star (Xu) and sets most of its action in South Africa, 24 Hours seems designed to fulfill minimum investor requirements more than any creative ambitions, pulling together elements from the John Wick, Crank and Taken movies, all of which appealed to audiences around the globe. Smrz and the team of screenwriters can’t come up with anything as stylish as John Wick, as nutso as Crank or as well-acted as Taken, although Hawke does his best to bring some depth and soulfulness to the grieving, haunted Trevor.
He’s not much of an action star, though, and he has almost no chemistry with Xu, who also struggles with her character’s heartstring-tugging back story (she’s the one stuck with the Taken riff, as Red Mountain eventually kidnaps her young son). Rutger Hauer shows up in a handful of scenes as Trevor’s grizzled father-in-law, and he gets one amusingly badass moment toward the end of the movie, but he’s mostly wasted in a movie that could have used more of a sense of humor about itself. Even the ridiculous-looking digital clock stuck in Trevor’s arm is played completely straight.
The carnage and property damage escalates to typically absurd heights as Trevor closes in on Red Mountain’s sinister CEO (Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham) and the handler (Paul Anderson) whom Trevor previously believed was his best friend. The narrative arc of betrayal and revenge is pretty undercooked, and the literal countdown to Trevor’s demise removes a lot of potential tension and suspense. Hawke provides some spark to his stock action-hero character, but that never extends to the rest of the movie.