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24th Day, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Revenge Melodrama With a Twist"
2 stars

What if you found out an ex-lover you had a one-night stand with were responsible for making you HIV-positive? Would you take it sitting down, or would you be inclined to do something drastic about it?

In last year's Los Angeles crime drama Dark Blue, Scott Speedman was given what some perceived at the time to be a star-making part: that of Kurt Russell's rookie-detective, conscience-laden partner who turned against the corruption teeming within his department. Twenty-seven, tall and lanky, handsome, with long swept-back hair, he was neither grating nor disgraceful and thankfully bereft of self-infatuation -- unlike many actors of his generation, he didn't come off as the type who insistently checked himself out in a mirror in between takes. Having granted him this, his performance, alas, was underwhelming. Speedman lacked screen presence and depth, and while you could certainly see him honestly trying to flex some acting chops, the prevailing impression was that of a photogenic performer who was easy on the eyes but not much more. He was too reminiscent of William Baldwin in Internal Affairs, who, like Speedman, played the partner of a quintessential corrupt cop and thus ended up emasculated by his more-capable co-star (the one in that case being Richard Gere); Russell's and Gere's characters served as father figures for Speedman's and Baldwin's, which was somewhat fitting in that these veteran actors seemed to have these less-experienced actors under their tutelage during production. Baldwin surprised three years later with an excellent star performance in Three of Hearts in the role of a gigolo hired to mend the relationship of a lesbian couple; a year later, Speedman has now starred in The 24th Day in the role of a chef who takes the bisexual man whom he thinks has given him AIDS hostage in his apartment, and though his performance isn't on par with Baldwin's, it's passable enough and occasionally more than that.

Shot on digital video and on the cheap in Philadelphia, the film is an adaptation of Tony Piccirillo's stage play, and the playwright himself has not only penned the screenplay but made his directorial debut with it. One suspects that Piccirillo, though, didn't do a whole lot in the way of heavy lifting with the screenplay, because the proceedings largely consist of drawn-out two-character dialogue scenes between its two main actors; and one can easily see the brief scenes outside the apartment having been added on in an attempt to "open up" the material. While the story line itself is initially interesting -- Speedman's Tom luring X-Men's James Marsden's Dan to his apartment under the pretense of noncommittal sex after a few drinks at a nearby bar, and subsequently handcuffing him to a chair until the results of an AIDS test come back in thirty-six hours confirming whether or not Dan, who was Tom's only homosexual lover in a one-night stand five years prior, did in fact infect him -- it starts collapsing rather quickly under the top-heavy dialogue that's mostly overstated and not nearly as clever as Piccirillo would like to think. When a conversation ensues over who starred in the original Cape Fear rather than the remake, and then steers its way to the topic of who was the foxiest of the original cast of tv's Charlie's Angels, you sense these pop-culture references are simply there as padding in a Tarantino-esque attempt to disguise the thinness of the material by dressing it up with "hipness". And the (for lack of a better descriptive) straight dialogue is comprised of too many monologues that scream "Stageplay!", so you're constantly being pulled out of the already-paper-thin story by being reminded it's all part of a fictitious realm; we go to the cinema to be transported to fictional worlds but not reminded of this while trying to remain under the filmmakers' spell.

Piccirillo isn't talented enough a writer to where his words reveal character without things being made clear-cut; there's nothing to really infer from what the characters say or half-say, nothing to key off and draw our own conclusions to. Everything's spelled out, and while I wasn't hungering for the evasiveness of Harold Pinter I was at least desiring a second-rate Sam Shepard in being told enough but not much more. Piccirillo has structured things through the use of flashbacks so facets of Tom's life come to light, and a late-in-the-game story revelation certainly captures one by surprise, but it's only in instances such as these when you feel engaged in the story. As a director, he further hampers matters by failing to contribute much in the way of a visual interpretation onto the material (the only decent shot is in a seedy bar where the green in both a window and a beer bottle are illuminated in perfect unison) and by shooting the dialogue in the tv-safe way of cutting to the other actor as soon as the other one has finished speaking (which makes the ninety-six-minute running time seem so much longer than it is). Piccirillo fails at bringing anything out of his play through the use of film; it gains absolutely nothing from having been committed to celluloid. Surely, he must have known this, for his trite use of cinema-verité camerawork during the flashbacks, the occasional jarring cuts from a medium shot to a direct close-up of the same character, and the odious hyping of Kevin Manthei's bombastic, lay-you-out score right before something important is revealed serve as blatant, sophomoric attempts to spruce things up. The material might have worked on the stage (though I doubt it), but the silver screen is rather unforgiving to it, especially since Piccirillo lacks a sound, perceptive sense of how to expressively communicate through film language.

The 24th Day isn't a total dud. The production design is very fine: Norman Dodge shows an instinct for communicating mood through the canny selection and placement of props and the allotment of space. Second, it's morally responsible without going didactic on us; it stresses the need for personal responsibility for our actions, whether the consequences stemming from them were intentional or not on our part (something Jonathan Demme's Philadelphia breezed over). Third, it offers up a much better showcase for Scott Speedman (though not for co-star Masden, who reminds one of Party of Five's Scott Wolf in not just generic appearance but in limited vocal delivery and reliance on mannerisms to convey A-to-B-to-C emotions). Tom's been written as a failure, a man all too knowing of his weaknesses and lacking the self-confidence to believe he's capable of something better than following in his family's footsteps in their restaurant business; his internal pain resounds so deeply within because he knows he's throwing his life away and too scared of failure to do anything about it. There's a scene where he opens up to Dan about once wanting to study archeology at a renowned university in Arizona, and Speedman draws the words out very tactfully, very thoughtfully, as if Tom were gauging whether these uttered words were going to further lacerate this internal wound or alleviate it; when he's through, it's like he just broke the surface of a too-long stay underwater, though he's still remorseful -- Speedman doesn't make the foolish mistake of conveying that the confession automatically makes everything copacetic. And sometimes, even when he's just reacting, he manages to be suggestive (though he's not quite as emotionally accessible as you'd like -- he seems to be holding back a bit). Speedman has developed some control and timing, and if he can improve even more on the two and tack on some style, he might be spared from appearing in something like The 24th Day again.

Some of Speedman's work will stay with you, but the aftertaste of the film itself is far from pleasing.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10648&reviewer=327
originally posted: 08/26/04 20:37:22
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User Comments

8/22/11 hurdy gurdy man Good performances, holds your attention. 4 stars
1/06/06 Anthony A little shaky when it comes to production, but that aside, the cast does well. 4 stars
4/04/05 tatum Very creepy, the two leads are excellent 5 stars
2/20/05 Darryl Intense. Gripping. Edge-of-your-seat suspense! I wasn't expecting such a taut thriller. 5 stars
9/29/04 Ty Hutt Compelling, and an excellent light shed on a very emotional subject 4 stars
9/09/04 Alan There's a nice 50-minute film inside the 96-minute running time 4 stars
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  14-May-2004 (R)
  DVD: 31-Aug-2004


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