Jack's Back

No, this isn’t about the 1988 James Spader-Cynthia Gibb Jack the Ripper thriller directed by Rowdy Herrington (whatever happened to him?), although I admit I’m curious to see it after twenty years since its pay TV broadcast.

24: Retribution marks the return of Jack Bauer, the most successful and engaging James Bond derivative ever created for TV, and it’s about bloody time Fox brought back the popular hero after a long, long absence. The winter ’07-08 writer’s strike killed the show’s chances of returning this past January, but after a number of factors were resolved, Bauer was smartly fitted into a standalone 2-hour TV movie that’s far more satisfying than the 6 or 10 minute teasers Fox tacked onto the DVD editions of each season’s DVD debut.

In prior years, the teaser gave us a hook at what was to come in January, but you have to wonder why someone didn’t figure a TV movie was an even better way to grab us. Oh, right. It costs more dough.

In any event, Retribution has Jack hiding out in a pseudo-African nation on the brink of civil war, working at a boy’s school under the protection of an old friend and ex-CTU agent. When the local rebels need more boys for cannon fodder, they head for the boy’s school, and Jack’s efforts to avoid a subpoena handed to him by a U.S. consulate official goes down the river, as the good solider he needs to save the kids, prevent a mini-genocide, and save his friend’s life.

That’s all I’ll say about the film because, while one can argue it’s two episodes edited into feature-length format, it’s also a complete tale that has Jack returning home just as a new conspiracy cover-up is underway prior to the swearing in of America’s first Madame President.

24’s writers have always pounced on topical news reports, and the timing couldn’t be better. Last year’s president was a right wing hardliner who almost launched a global nuclear war, and things in the country were resoundly bad. It was all post-9/11, which meant the show was set in a world where nothing could be trusted because of an omnipotent cloud of fear: nothing and no one could be trusted, and extremism was wrecking the sense of freedom and pursuit of leisure with which everyone had grown up.

If the story arcs work, 24 is essentially gripping, old-time serial tension. Season 1 was perfection in a bottle (amnesia idiocy excepted); Season 2 was less tight but still engaging; Season 3 had one good episode amid dumb peroxide characters jiggling their way through an ineptly run CTU; Season 4 had a half good episode amid wayward tangents and lame plotting designed to trick ardent fans that only made them angrier; Season 5 was shockingly pretty good; and Season 6 was 24 back in high gear. Kudos to those who realize the show was seriously sucking and needed medical help.

Retribution is timely because it’s riding on post-election euphoria over a the massive political and emotional shift from Dubya to Obama, and like real-life, occurs prior to the transition to the new administration. The world Madame President will govern has already started with a major crisis (the African civil war) as well as a standard 24 internal cover-up of bad behaviour (illegal arms sales) which could threaten not only her administration, but her efforts to be a popular President in addition to keeping her family safe. As prior seasons of 24 have shown, shrapnel knows no boundaries, and the devastation can include presidential family members, drivers, best friends, or whatever gets in the way of the lunatic fringe. All standard operating procedure for the show’s writers.

Retribution will debut Tuesday on DVD as a standalone release, and will be goosed with, what else, a teaser for the new season, although during Sunday’s broadcast, Fox showed some teaser trailers of the teaser (teasing, isn’t it?) that showed a very alive, albeit scarred, Tony Almeida, to which I can only scream “HOW THE HELL IS THAT POSSIBLE?!?!?!?”

For that, we’ll find out in January, after Xmas and New Year’s celebrations, and after Obama moves from elect to sitting President. Undoubtedly the show’s writers will try and feed off what they feel we’ll be experiencing around then.

Fans of the series will not be disappointed by Retribution, as it’s another star-studded episode of sorts with Robert Carlyle as Bauer’s friend in need, and Jon Voight plays the new selfish scumbag with eyes on perhaps rubbing out a member of Madame President’s close circle. Sean Callery’s score is another punchy mix of electronic rhythms, and the use of split-screens pops up a bit more than in prior seasons. (The effect was heavily minimized after Season 1, although I felt that season’s directors made good use of the feature, and I kind of miss it.)

Director John Cassar handles the tense action scenes with his usual panache for sharply edited mayhem, and he’s brought in another massive contingent of fellow Canadians, which include Gil Bellows (Keep Your Distance), Carly Pope (Young People Fucking), and Colm Feore (who’s American, but has made myriad appearances in Canadian stage, TV, and film productions, including Bon Cop, Bad Cop).

We’ll compact the above review with comments on the DVD’s special features (a screener wasn’t available at the time of writing, so I had to settle for the broadcast version which lacks 10 mins. of additional footage).

And how was the Simpsons’ 24 parody? Mostly meh. The show only came to life when Kiefer Sutherland popped up in the middle, getting a prank call (“Imade Adoody“) from Bart, which sets up the finale and a funny closing line. Most of the show’s gags dealt with bodily functions, odours, fetid yogurt, and Marge racing against time to make a worthy contribution to the school’s annual bake sale.




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