Shot partly on location in South Africa, Fox’s “24” movie gives Jack Bauer a new continent across which to righteously kick ass, as well as get his own chops busted in creative (read: tortured) ways. “Redemption” not only teases the coming season’s new exotic threat but trots out the latest commander-in-chief, played by Cherry Jones. Cast like a feature, the project delivers two entertaining real-time hours, though that’s no assurance that Bauer’s seventh very long day (talk about a worst week) will avoid the program’s recent pattern of starting like gangbusters and limping toward the dawn.
In that regard, the writers strike came at a relatively propitious time — helping deaden the memory of the sixth chapter, which essentially came to a grinding halt after 18 hours or so, changed course, then nearly collapsed into Shakespearean silliness. It was a surprising if perhaps inevitable turn for a series built on improbable comebacks, following as it did an Emmy-winning year.
This prequel to “Day Seven” benefits not only from the change of venue but also from the luxury of incorporating so many first-rate actors, including Robert Carlyle as an old pal with whom former Counter-Terrorism Unit agent Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) has taken refuge, helping out a school for kids in war-torn Africa. Of course, anywhere Bauer lands is due for bad news, and a brutal military coup breaks out — not only imperiling Jack and his charges but creating an international crisis just as President-elect Taylor (Jones) is preparing to be sworn in.
More nefarious doings are afoot, and Jack — faced with a Senate subpoena back home — will, as usual, confront tough moral choices, continuing to suffer the torments of the damned to keep others safe. It’s the show’s central motif — how far U.S. values can be bent in the name of freedom and security — and one that has rightly made it a political lightning rod/Rorschach test, with the seriousness of reactions to Jack’s “Ends justifies the means” mindset largely dictated by one’s ideological leanings.
That’s a lot of weight to drag around, and “24” fares best when the show wriggles out from under it — playing like a thriller, as the movie does, with Sutherland barking lines like “Put down the weapon!” Carlyle also delivers a topnotch performance, as does a teeth-gritting Powers Boothe in a cameo as the outgoing president.
The movie’s title, in fact, carries perhaps an unintended double meaning, inasmuch as another strong year would, indeed, provide the series a measure of redemption from “Day Six.” Granted, on the seventh day even God supposedly rested, but based on a high-octane closing preview of what’s to come, there’ll be no such luxury for Jack Bauer.