Clocking in at just two, rather than twenty-four hours, this adventure takes place between the hours of 3pm and 5pm. “All events take place in real time” says the Kiefer Sutherland voice-over.
The telemovie (to air in the US this Sunday), is positioned to tantalise viewers before the delayed premiere of the seventh season next January. It’s certainly exhilarating to have Jack Bauer back on our screens, but given we’ve been waiting a year it’s odd to think they went to all this trouble when the real thing is now only two months away.
Aside from the time excisions, there is a lot that has changed here. There’s no CTU. No Chloe. No Bill Buchanan or Audrey Raines. Instead of being set somewhere outside Los Angeles, Jack finds himself in the fictional African country of Sangala. Here to visit a friend Carl Benton (Robert Carlyle) who runs a school for rescued child soldiers, Bauer keeps insisting he has no intentions of returning to the USA. He’s just looking for a bit of time out as a missionary. It ain’t gonna happen.
Sangala is in the middle of a military overthrow. Primary school-aged boys are rounded up by guerillas and trained to fight the enemy, which is anything that represents the west. You get the feeling that the 24 writers were planning on another outcome from the recent US election. One of the war-lords reminds the black children of Sangala that America makes slaves of their kind. Guess he hadn’t heard they also make presidents.
Running parallel with the African story is the inauguration of American’s next president, Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones). With her Hillary-style hairdo, it’s another indicator the writers expected the election to take a different turn.
Bauer is soon swept up in the rescue of children from violent war-lords and helping his friend Carl to get his children to the American embassy before a helicopter leaves. Touches of the fall of Saigon here….
In other minor roles are Jon Voight, the enigmatic Powers Booth and, ever so briefly, Peter MacNicol. Carlyle is effective in a supporting role, while the boy who plays the helpless Willy (pictured) is excellent.
With its sepia-soaked filters, the dusty, African scenes are brutal and necessarily hollow. With children wielding rifles, and screaming women and children, there are echoes of Blood Diamond and Hotel Rwanda. One can’t help but wonder after Hollywood has splashed Africa’s plight as popcorn entertainment whether it will resonate with any real world effect or not (the official 24 website does have links to “Stop Child Soldiers”, “Malaria No More” and “UNICEF”).
The action scenes for Jack Bauer are what the audience is here for, and they do deliver even if there is a moral lesson on the human condition along for the ride.
The political intrigue set in Washington drops the ball of what should have been an effective action flick. 24 is always ripping for its conspiracy theories, and Machiavellian characters. Spliced into a two hour (90 minute) telemovie, they have no breathing space, and serve as little more than set-up for the forthcoming seventh season. America is getting a new president, but something’s rotten in the District of Colombia.
For all it ambitions, 24: Redemption is entertaining enough, but really only serves to remind us why we love Jack Bauer and why we want him back for an extra 22 hours. If you can’t wait until 2009, it’s worth stopping your clock for.