John Rambo fled to Burma to reflect on a life of bloodshed, torture and an ungrateful US government. For the same reasons, Jack Bauer finds himself in the fictional African nation of Sangala. Both territories are hotbeds of tribal violence; so hardly the best choice for spiritual sanctuary. Added to that, both Republican posterboys attract trouble like iron filings to a magnet -- so stand back and watch the real-time explosions...
Set between the awful sixth season and next January's seventh season, 24: Redemption is a feature-length outing for counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), based on aborted scripts for next year's return. Jack is in Sangala, working with the United Nations at an American camp for disadvantaged African children; a pet project of his ex-Special Forces mentor Carl Benton (Robert Carlyle). Concurrently, rebel Colonel Dubaku (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) is involved in a military coup, and needs to recruit and brainwash "little soldiers" to achieve the goals set by his superior, General Juma (Tony Todd).
Over in the US, it's Inauguration Day for President-elect Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones), who is surprised to learn about the Sangala coup from departing President Noah Daniels (Powers Boothe), and disappointed to hear that Daniels' last executive order has been to ignore the situation, evacuate all Americans from the African region, and allow a potential genocide.
Meanwhile, a White House worker called Chris Whitley (Kris Lemche) discovers something untoward at work and tries to get his old friend, the President-elect's son Roger (Eric Lively), to help him. Sadly, Chris' history of drug use undermines the plausibility of his story, so Roger opts to ignore him -- unaware that his friend has unwittingly found evidence that the US State Department's Jonas Hodges (Jon Voight) has been providing arms to the Sangalese rebels.
I'm in two-minds about 24: Redemption. As a scene-setter for season 7, it's successful but not very stimulating. The US strand of the story offers glimpses of characters and ideas that will inevitably be better explained and developed next year. Cherry Jones looks like a welcome change of pace as President Taylor, though; returning some realism to 24 after years of ineffective or corrupt Commander-In-Chief's. Having an idealistic president in office will be much better for the show, as her left-wing principles will nicely clash with the right-wing attitude of Jack Bauer.
Jon Voight only has a few scenes as villain Jonas Hodges, but it's a classy debut that has me intrigued about how he will feed into season 7, and if the Sangala situation will have any baring on next year's storyline. 24 has a tradition of utilizing famous faces in interesting ways (stetching back to Dennis Hopper in season 1), so I certainly hope Voight gets the material to sink his teeth into.
However, the meat of this TVM is inevitably centred on Africa, where Jack must protect a dozen children from Dubaku's men, forced to become a one-man army and defeat the rebels with his usual guile, grit, determination and aptitude for violence. His friend Benton lends a hand, although Robert Carlyle is tragically wasted in this role, with the Scottish actor inexplicably asked to effect an Irish lilt, too. For someone who should arguably be a brotherly reflection of Jack, Carlyle's role is thin and almost looks edited to prevent him overshadowing Sutherland. Note that both of Benton's moments of glory are heard but not seen.
Meanwhile, Jack goes through the motions like an Action Man figure: suffering an obligatory torture sequence, throwing sticks of dynamite at jeeps, stabbing men in the chest, dodging bullets behind trees, etc. The difference here is, because Jack's not restrained by any ethical framework in the depths of Africa, there's no punch to seeing him orchestrate mayhem in an already chaotic backdrop. The African villains are two-dimensional caricatures, too, so it's also difficult to amass any desire for Jack to defeat them. Indeed, Juma doesn't share a scene with Jack anyway, and Dubaku's comeuppance isn't even at Jack's hand.
It all boils down to an extended chase through the African brush to the safety of the US Embassy, where a chopper is waiting to whisk the school children to safety. The arc of the Africa plot is very predictable throughout, not helped by people mentioning their schedule and prompting viewers to calculate where events are heading. The fact it's common knowledge Jack will face trial in season 7 (see: the trailer that's been around for over 12 months), also means the ultimate ending of Redemption is never in doubt. Indeed, Jack himself is so comically indestructible that most situations he finds himself don't carry a life-or-death threat these days. A machete burn to his face seems to heal itself in minutes!
However, purely on the level of an appetiser and a side-dish treat for the fans, 24: Redemption works fairly well. It's interesting to see Jack in different surroundings (although the loss of the established 24 environment is like a Q-less Bond film -- perfectly enjoyable, but not quite a Bond film.) Redemption could easily be a straight-to-video action flick Kiefer Sutherland filmed during hiatus, built around his TV success. Only the fact people call him "Jack" and there's a ticking close says otherwise.
Overall, 24: Redemption is far from a disaster, but it's also far from the must-see, self-contained, high-octane action-thriller many were expecting. Annoyingly, it takes 40-minutes until the first proper action sequence arrives (that's a full advert-less episode in TV terms), and the total amount of on-screen destruction is relatively small-scale. Essentially, this is a distraction to tide fans over until January, that steals ideas and visuals from Blood Diamond, doesn't really capitalize on its potential, wastes Carlyle, and offers a preview of season 7 via the performances of Jones, Lively and Voight.
Jack may be back, but he's not coming home 'till next year.
24 November 2008 Sky1, 10pm
Writer: Howard Gordon Director: Jon Cassar
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer), Cherry Jones (President-elect Allison Taylor), Bob Gunton (Ethan Kanin), Colm Feore (Henry Taylor), Powers Boothe (President Noah Daniels), Gil Bellows (Frank Tramell), Jon Voight (Jonas Hodges), Sean Cameron Michael (Charles Solenz), Sivuyile Ngesi (Thomas), Zolile Nokwe (Youssou), Mbongeni Nomkonwana (Desmond), Nick Toth (Justice Edwin Ross), Shakes Myeko (Prisoner "Cockroach"), Bob DeCastro (Field Reporter), Bizeki Magwanda (Embassy Aide), Tshemano Sebe (Rebel Commander), Didier Moestus (Rebel Sergeant), Micheal T. Dube (Kabile), Martin Kintu (Rebel Checkpoint Soldier), Patrick Walton (Marine Sergeant), Mark Aiken (Nichols), Mark Kiely (Mark Vossler), Tony Todd (Juma), Robert Carlyle (Carl Benton), Peter MacNicol (Tom Lennox), Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Ike Dubaku), Siyabulela Ramba (Willy), Isaach De Bankole (President Motobo), Kris Lemche (Chris Whitley), Eric Lively (Roger Taylor), James Joseph O'Neil (Halcott), Carly Pope (Samantha Roth) & Sebastian Roché (Quinn)