Right about then I exercised my rights as a citizen in a democratic society and changed the channel. I'd stuck with "24" through the myriad traitorous moles (hello, vetting process?), through the contrived associations (that master-terror-planner-type person we met a season or two ago? He's Jack's brother!), even through the stalking of his pouty daughter by cougars (real ones, not Dyan Cannon). But the show's sixth season veered too close to self-parody for my taste, over-plotting itself into oblivion.
The new Rambo
Mostly I couldn't abide Jack Bauer's descent into cliche. After five seasons of world-savin' and self-sacrificin', he'd been reduced to a morose goon. The sixth season didn't entirely compromise the character -- in its final dramatic spasm, Jack kissed his bedimpled ladylove goodbye and stared vacantly out into the ocean, a gesture true to his profound emo side -- but it rendered him more Rambo than Jason Bourne. There was nothing interesting about the single-minded brute into which he'd evolved, even as Kiefer Sutherland continued to play him with a perfectly calibrated balance of resignation and rage.
It's little surprise, then, that the Jack Bauer we meet in the opening minutes of "24: Redemption" is a chastened fellow. His wardrobe has been overhauled, with the stubble-and-khaki ensemble traded for pastels, cuffed chinos and a well-manicured mustache. He wears an iPod Shuffle on his belt and dances often. At one pivotal moment, he deftly executes the old pull-the-finger gag with Chloe, and his partners-in-counter-terror-shenanigans dissolve in laughter. Then they all go out for sushi.
Or not. The "new" Jack Bauer is the old Jack Bauer, kicking ass by the bucketful and speaking with the clipped cadence of the world's most intense Pilates instructor. Sure, he might temporarily indulge a humanitarian bent; the "Redemption" flick, as befitting its name, charges Jack with shepherding a handful of schoolboys in a coup-shredded African nation to safety. But it's when Jack starts blowing crap up, precisely 36 minutes and 8 seconds into the expensive-looking flick, that "24" comes alive again. Within three minutes, the body count is in the mid-teens. Welcome home, Jackie.
(By the way, Vegas has set the over/under on "number of 'Jack's Back!'" headlines that will accompany reviews of '24: Redemption'" at 6,925. Take the over.)
High-voltage high jinks
I'm glad that the producers haven't bowed to pressure from groups who tsk-tsk Bauer's eager use of jumper cables and hacksaws as information-procurement accessories. Once more, with feeling: "24" is fiction. Me, I'm willing to accept behavior from Jack Bauer that I am not willing to accept from his real-world, government-empowered equivalents. If there are viewers out there who choose to interpret "24" as documentary, that's a failure of their own intellect and imagination, and thus nothing that the producers should feel the need to address.
So yeah, "24: Redemption" finds show and character alike back on solid footing. The self-contained movie, set to air Nov. 23, succeeds marvelously in rehumanizing Jack Bauer without overplaying the reluctant-hero angle. At the same time, it stays true to the show's real-time gimmick and worn-on-the-sleeve earnestness while cleverly setting the stage for the upcoming season. Anyone who liked "24" before will experience an almost visceral charge upon the initial sounding of the familiar beep ... beep ... beep chimes.
So what doesn't work? The dialogue remains sludgy, with bits about "finding a way to live with yourself" and a presidential inauguration speech poached from a junior-league chapter of the John Birch Society. "24" also continues to employ too many pretty young things who tremble in the presence of consummate character actors like Powers Boothe and Jon Voight. I'm not crazy about the nuance-free characterizations -- "24" strictly defines its players as "good guy" or "bad guy" -- but that tactic makes sense under the circumstances. The series has never pretended to be anything other than sublime popcorn entertainment. If I want to ponder notions of moral and sociopolitical ambiguity, I'll grab me some Cicero on my way home tonight from the word factory.
"24" handles product integration much more deftly. I'd argue that brand real estate within the confines of the show may be one of the most valuable commodities around for hi-tech, dude-centric marketers. Hell, at the rate of one impression for each time that Jack uses his eternally charged cellphone, that's several hundred zillion impressions over the course of a season. Smartly, "24" limits the opportunities, with only three brands -- Cisco, Sprint and Hyundai -- on prominent display during "Redemption."
Hyundai's soft sell
Most effective is the Hyundai placement, in which a minor character hops into his sleek, slick car (the much-hyped new Genesis model, I assume) and dawdles for a few seconds before departing. Even as the camera lingers a touch too long on the in-dash computer doohickey, I found myself thinking, "That's what Hyundais look like nowadays? Sweet!" Whatever the company paid to wrest the "24"-approved-automaker conch away from Ford, it was worth it.
In retrospect, the unexpected year off might've been a blessing in disguise for "24." It can't be easy to put this show together, what with the constraints of the real-time format and the super-sized audience expectations. The genius of "Redemption" is that it manages to feel old and new at the same time, tapping familiar faces and themes without retracing its steps. Plus lots of stuff done gets exploded into the sky. Wheee! I'm sold.