By Alan Scherstuhl
By Amy Nicholson
By Charles Taylor
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Brian Feinzimer
By CAROLINA DEL BUSTO
By AMY NICHOLSON
By Amy Nicholson
A well-known formula for instant drama in a film is stranding your main character in a remote area and watching him or her fight to escape. It's already a risky venture to center a film on one actor, whose performance could make or break the movie entirely. Eric Heisserer's Hours unfortunately does not approach this genre with the energy needed to fulfill the load of inherent expectations. Part disaster movie, part study of a regular man in peril, it stars recently—and tragically—deceased Paul Walker as Nolan Hayes, the stand-in hero struggling for rescue in a dire situation.
Nolan brings wife Abigail (a spunky Genesis Rodriguez) to a New Orleans hospital as complications arise in her pregnancy. From the doctor's update, he learns that Abigail has given birth to a daughter but died unexpectedly during delivery. Nolan is reasonably distraught, but he becomes more preoccupied with the status of his premature infant, who must rely on a ventilator to breathe for the next 48 hours. Meanwhile, Hurricane Katrina forces an evacuation of Charity Hospital. The newborn must remain on the ventilator to stay alive, so Nolan stays behind, and as the power goes off, he must manually rev up a backup generator that only supplies enough juice for two minutes, giving him zero time to effectively get help before having to crank it up again. For the next 48 hours, he's trapped, but he keeps calm by talking to his child.
It's a simple premise, and it rests entirely on Walker's performance, which, due to his untimely passing, has been given even more poignancy; one cannot help but gaze at Walker in a new light. Without the sexiness factor of a muscle car and a tight-fitting shirt, the handsome actor transforms into an Everyman, hapless and frustrated in the face of chaos. But he's confined to a meager script with little to do. He emotes and cries at all the appropriate times, but his character comes off as aloof, even from Abigail. Through the occasional flashback, we see Nolan and Abigail's relationship from its spontaneous beginning, and in her limited screen time, Rodriguez displays more warmth and liveliness than Walker does throughout the entire movie.
There are other attempts at tension: a levee breaks, unleashing a flood of water that devastates New Orleans, including the lower levels of the hospital occupied by Nolan. Opportunistic looters scrounge for valuables and threaten him. "You don't want anyone to know you're here," warns one armed vandal, hinting at other dangerous types outside. These scenes are few and far apart and offer little respite from long-winded scenes of Walker talking to himself or his child. In a final stab at drawing emotion, there's a cheesy scene near the end in which Abigail's ghost offers solace to Nolan about her death.
First-time director Heisserer also wrote the remake of The Thing, another desolate thriller. In writing Hours, however, he isolates the main character from the very real drama taking place outside in the aftermath of Katrina. It hasn't even been 10 years since the Crescent City was left in ruins by the Category-5 hurricane, yet true stories of families surviving the storm and rebuilding their lives abound. Nolan's story pales in comparison, not because its basic concept seems unlikely or uninteresting, but because Heisserer relies too much on Walker to boost the film without crafting a more compelling screenplay. Walker is also credited as an executive producer; it's hard to imagine what kind of say he had in making the film. Heisserer's directing prowess falls short, and dialogue often comes across as awkward. Although it looks good, some of the main issues with the film, such as Nolan's aloofness and the absence of tension, are partly attributable to a lack of strategic camerawork and framing.
Press releases and reviews are sure to market Hours as Paul Walker's best performance. While the future of his long-running The Fast and the Furious franchise hangs in the balance, this is the closest movie audiences will have to seeing Walker again on a big screen. Despite the movie's faults, Walker's presence will surely linger on in our memory, even after the fade to black.