2 hours of Trouble for Jack Bauer in the '24' Film

NEW YORK – Spending six days with Jack Bauer has not only entertained us, but also taught us a lot.

We have learned to trust no one, least of all a close associate or lover. He assured us that our lack of faith in business, government and other institutions is well-advised. And his Things to Do list makes ours seem like child's play by comparison.

Ever since Fox's "24" premiered in 2001, we have been scrambling to keep up with Jack, the counterterrorist go-to guy, through six seasons of 24 one-hour episodes spanning a day in real time — with the fate of the world in Jack's hands.

After those six white-knuckle days, the world is still in one piece (thanks, Jack!). But with each of his 24-hour ordeals, he pays a stiff price for his heroics.

Not so much with his body. Jack bounces back from physical exertion and punishment from season to season, and even minute to minute. Like a cartoon character who is comically mutilated in one scene, then returns in the next scene good as new, Jack seems immune to lasting damage.

But as time goes on, he seems to get increasingly bummed out. No wonder. A man who's lost everything but his near-superhero strength and stamina (and impressive bladder capacity), he began the series as a family man with a home and a job. A sort of counterterrorist Joe Sixpack.

He (and "24") was last seen in spring '07 after saving the day yet again, followed by a brief bedside vigil just to say goodbye to Audrey, his true love left in a permanent coma from the torture she had suffered in an effort to protect him.

Since then, little was known of Jack's whereabouts while intel indicated that production snafus for "24" on top of last year's writers strike (dire forces that even Jack couldn't overcome) were keeping him sidelined.

Granted, the world seemed no worse off for Jack's conspicuous absence. But his fans sure missed him.

Now Jack's back, as is Kiefer Sutherland in the dancing-as-fast-as-I-can starring role. A seventh "24" season starts in January.

But Sunday at 8 p.m. EST, a self-contained movie, "24: Redemption," serves as a welcome warmup (and a tantalizing setup) for the season ahead.

The two-hour film, which spans from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Jan. 20 in the fictitious African nation of Sangala, finds Bauer taking refuge there. He is helping care for a group of orphaned children being schooled by his old special-ops buddy, Carl (Robert Carlyle).

But he can hide for only so long. The U.S. government wants him. A Senate subcommittee has questions about alleged illegal detention and torture of certain prisoners while they were in his custody. He's been ducking a subpoena for more than a year when he is tracked down by a slithery official played by Gil Bellows.

"They want me back in Washington, they can come and get me," seethes Bauer, not about to be persuaded by a paper-toting bureaucrat.

Befitting the kinetic pace of Bauer's life, these events have all occurred by 3:09 p.m.

Problems are mounting for Bauer, who, inevitably dragged into them, is soon trading blows, swapping gunfire, exchanging grenades, getting tied up, tortured and interrogated. And it's still only 3:54 p.m.

Any "24" saga is typically a multistrand narrative told in a multiscreen display and linked by cell phones clapped to everyone's ear. Even this downsized "24" movie adheres to that style, if a little less elaborately. And while much of the film dwells in an exotic, third-world setting (it was shot in South Africa), there's also action afoot in Washington.

There, it's morning on Inauguration Day as we meet President-elect Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones), who soon will be taking the oath of office. She will succeed President Noah Daniels (Powers Boothe), who appears alternately bitter and depressed (does he maybe feel vindictive?) about being voted out.

The minutes tick down to Taylor's swearing-in, but already she's focused on containing a coup in Sangala that could otherwise erupt into a global crisis.

With the rebels' ranks swelled by young boys abducted for this bloodthirsty militia, Bauer is soon confronting thugs who mean to seize the orphans he and Carl have been caring for.

The fate of those children is settled by the end of the film, but that's a story line whose larger purpose is to set the stage for the new season. It leaves plenty of other unanswered questions for us to stew over until then.

For instance, what's the deal with Jonas Hodges, a shadowy, Washington-based fortune hunter who, played by Jon Voight, seems poised to be the season's most hissable villain? Why is Hodges secretly funding that African coup? And how far will he go to keep his secret safe after President Taylor's own son stumbles on it?

Also: How will Jack's former CTU bro Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) explain his resurrection after years of being presumed dead? And why will he turn evil?

Those are issues that are likely to plague our hero all day in the coming "24" season. But in "24: Redemption," Bauer, who never has a nice day, is sure to have a stressful couple of hours.


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