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By Merle Bertrand | January 20, 2001

Nick Miles (David Stewart) is just another mindless office drone in Fifth City, “Dilbert”-ing his days away at the ubiquitous hi-tech firm Sardonyx, Inc. As if his job wasn’t stressful enough, what with a humorless boss demanding that Nick fill out sheaves of reports every day, Nick is also trying to quit smoking. He’s down to one cigarette every three hours…and he lives his life by those three hour intervals, ticking down the seconds until he can light up again.
With such emphasis placed on clock-watching, it’s no surprise when Nick starts noticing lost time; an hour he can’t account for every morning between three and four o’clock. At first, this is merely irritating. When he lights up a smoke at a diner at 3:00 and wakes up in his apartment at 4:00 with bloody hands holding a smoking pistol and an unfamiliar briefcase, however, Nick realizes he’s got a problem.
It takes a while for Eric Thornett’s stunning, if uneven, cyberpunk thriller to reach this point, but once it does, hold onto your Fedora! The entire world, it seems, or at least a dozen trench coat-clad thugs and other quirky would-be assassins are after the briefcase.
The bulk of “23 Hours” consists of this ongoing, exceptionally well-staged chase. Some of the most impressive fight choreography this side of Jackie Chan — no exaggeration — along with a smattering of plot exposition, flashbacks and recurring visions of a mysterious beautiful woman in red (Jennifer Reitz) also drive Nick as he peels back onion layers of a mystery that lead to the wealthy but dying recluse Maximillian Dellamorte (Duane Rouch).
If you use a calculator long enough, you eventually forget how to add in your head. The same can be said for today’s filmmakers, who’ve come to rely far too heavily on convenient digital wizardry. Thornett’s film is good old-fashioned FILMmaking; his stylishly funky editing, excellent sound effects and inspired camera angles more than compensating for the film’s murky look. He even turns several drab locations into a plus, using them to add to the film’s sterile setting.
“23 Hours” is an excellent movie…for the first hour or so. Five stars for all the chase and fight scenes. Yes, they drag on a little long — save some of that amazing choreography for the sequel, guys! — but it’s so jaw-dropping, one never gets tired of watching.
The film bogs down badly near the ending, however. Whereas in a perfect world, Nick would have solved the mystery himself, “23 Hours” settles instead for a typical and disappointing “evil-villain-explains-his-dastardly-plot-before-he-kills-the-hero” denouement. Too bad.
Still, “23 Hours” is ten times the movie “The Matrix” dreams it was, at about one gazillionth the cost. Check this one out for its pure visceral thrills alone.

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