Karen and Will Jennings (Charlize Theron, Stuart Townsend) are living enviable lives, complete with a lovely 6-year-old daughter, Abby (Dakota Fanning), a beautiful waterfront home in Portland, Ore., and rewarding careers; she's a textile designer and he's an anesthesiologist with a patent on a lucrative new anesthetic. Naturally, this being a film shot...read more
Karen and Will Jennings (Charlize Theron, Stuart Townsend) are living enviable lives, complete with a lovely 6-year-old daughter, Abby (Dakota Fanning), a beautiful waterfront home in Portland, Ore., and rewarding careers; she's a textile designer and he's an anesthesiologist with a patent on a lucrative new anesthetic. Naturally, this being a film shot in gloomy, desaturated colors with a jittery, darting camera, their idyll is about to be shattered. While Will is at a medical conference, Abby is snatched by Joe Hickey (Kevin Bacon) and his hulking, mildly retarded cousin, Marvin (Pruitt Taylor Vince). As the reptilian Joe apprises Karen of her desperate situation, his slatternly wife, Cheryl (Courtney Love) — who gives the impression of someone who's been shaken so hard some crucial bit of brain wiring has come loose — is doing the same in Will's hotel room. This is their fifth kidnapping, the abductors explain, and if Will and Karen follow the rules, theirs will go off as smoothly as the previous four. The rules are cruelly simple: Everything will be over in 24 hours. Will and Karen will do exactly as they're told: If they don't, Abby will die. Joe will call Marvin every half-hour: If he misses a call, Abby will die. Joe will also call Will's hotel room at regular intervals: If Will isn't there, Abby will die. That Joe has more than ransom in mind is clear from the moment he fixes his sleazy stare on the lovely Karen. And that the perfection of Joe's plotting will be sullied by cunning maternal devotion is equally evident from the ferocious set of Karen's jaw. Complicating matters further is Abby's life-threatening asthma, which Joe neglected to factor into his calculations. Adapted by Greg Iles from his own novel, 24 Hours (the title was changed, presumably to prevent confusion with the critically acclaimed TV thriller 24), this neatly constructed thriller traveled a rocky road to release. The opening date was changed twice, and the film finally came out in the aftermath of a spate of high-profile child abductions, which didn't disturb Columbia Pictures enough to withhold it, but did made them sufficiently uneasy not to screen it for the press. Ironically, this insured that even critics who might not otherwise have noticed the tenuous and coincidental connection to real-life events alluded to it in reviews, giving the film an unwarranted aura of tasteless exploitation.
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