Showing all too clearly its origin as a stage two-hander, writer-director Tony Piccirillo’s “The 24th Day” is an extremely talky gender-bending variant of the old William Mastrosimone play “Extremities,” which itself was made into a similarly static, earthbound movie in 1986. That earlier work was about a woman (played by Farah Fawcett, of all people, in the film) who overcame a would-be rapist in her house, tied him up and, in revenge, threatened him for a couple of hours. This picture centers on Tom (Scott Speedman), a scruffy young guy who picks up Dan (James Marsden), a slick bar-hopper, and brings him back to his rather dumpy apartment. After some desultorily theatrical conversation and a come-on by Dan, it’s gradually revealed that Tom believes that Dan infected him with the HIV virus during a one-night stand years before, and blames him for the death of his wife, who died in a car crash immediately after learning she’d contracted the condition. Tom knocks Dan out, ties him up and takes a blood sample for testing, threatening to take the ultimate revenge if Dan proves HIV-positive.
What follows is a lot of gab between the two men, much of it related to the issue at hand–who infected whom and who’s morally responsible for what happened. There’s recurrent reference to the problem of perception versus reality, and the unfortunate phrase “the true truth” is periodically bandied about to distinguish ultimate fact from individuals’ understanding or rationalization of their own actions. Of course such discussion couldn’t fill full feature length, so the pair talk about a lot else, besides–their pasts, for example, information on which is dribbled out in small doses. And to humanize the didactic plot line while adding a bit of a bonding undertone, they ramble on about pop culture stuff–movies and sports, especially; these stretches of writing are probably the most contrived and stilted in the script. As to “incident,” Piccirillo does what you’d expect. He inserts a couple of “close shave” moments when the hostage is almost discovered, as well as the obligatory near-escape that goes nowhere. To “open up” the piece, he also tosses in a bundle of flashbacks, some involving Sofia Vergara as Tom’s deceased wife, as well as a couple of slices of life on the outside. But for the most part this is a very confined talkathon. That wouldn’t be fatal if the dialogue were enlightening or imaginative, but it’s not. And the conclusion, when it finally comes, attempts unsuccessfully to deliver an ironic jolt.
Marsden and Speedman do the best one could plausibly expect under these difficult circumstances. The former certainly exudes the steamy charm demanded in a fellow like Dan, and he passes effectively from smoldering anger to false camaraderie to analytical cruelty; but it’s never easy for an actor to play a part that requires him to be trussed up almost throughout, and Marsden never gets much beneath the surface. Neither does Speedman, whose inarticulate rage has a generalized quality that derives from the schematic script. No one else in the cast is of consequence; far more important are Piccirillo’s direction, Jay Allen Hostetter’s cinematography and Aaron Mackof’s editing, which together try to capture a claustrophobic feel while overcoming the stagebound character of the piece with the obvious devices–quick cuts, dropped frames, sudden overlaps and the like. It doesn’t work. The other technical credits are about par for a modestly-budgeted independent production.
“The 24th Day” can perhaps be commended for attempting to raise serious moral issues, but not for the ham-fisted way it does so. Unlike the engine of children’s lore, it’s a little film that couldn’t.