'24' Movie Brings Jack Back with a Noble Cause

Stop trying to get Inauguration tickets–you're not going to succeed. But that doesn't mean you can't bear witness to the swearing-in of a historic American president. You'll just have to settle for a fake one. This Sunday, President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) will be sworn in during "24: Redemption," the two-hour movie meant to jump-start Fox's kinda haggard, real-time thriller series, which premieres this Sunday.

The last time we saw "24," its hard-charging lead character, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), was staring at the ocean, defeated and numb at the end of his sixth endless day. Unfortunately, the audience felt the same way. The sixth season of "24" was a comedy of errors, most of which stemmed from the inclusion of Jack's estranged family members, a nefarious father and brother, an irritating sister-in-law and nephew who may have been Jack's son. These mistakes are understandable. At some point in the life cycle of a long-running series, relatives are going to start crawling out of the woodwork, just as they are wont to do in real life. But "24" fans love action, the kind of non-stop, cliffhanger-driven, breathless momentum that doesn't lend itself to pausing to contemplate the circumstances that created Jack Bauer. Just drop the guy into a crisis and let him fix it by any means necessary.

The strength of "Redemption" lies in the fact that its length demands a smaller scale than a full season of the show. It's necessary to focus on Jack's current predicament without the lulls that are inevitable over the course of 24 episodes. In this case, the predicament is the impending civil war in Sangala, the fictional African country that Jack has fled to for some peace and quiet. Meanwhile, as Jack works off his karmic debt at a local school, Colonel Dubaku, a rebel leader, gathers up an army of child soldiers to power his uprising. But when Dubaku scoops up kids from Jack's school, well, now it's personal. The movie follows Jack's efforts to rescue the kids, a totally noble cause that never requires him to make the unsavory, morally fraught choices he so often has to. Turning Jack into a pure hero figure from a dark, flawed one is a shrewd choice that–let's hope–will last through season 7, which begins in January.

Another wise choice is the inclusion of President Taylor, whose inauguration day is nearly mired by the crisis in Sangala. She wants to step in, but her predecessor, Noah Daniels (Powers Boothe), makes clear that until her hand goes on that Bible, he's still running the show. This means we'll get to see a thoughtful, idealistic commander-in-chief back in the White House when "24" returns, after two-and-a-half seasons of weasely villainous ones. At some point, the terrorist menace du jour will require a tough, no-win decision that will cause the deaths of innocent people, and between a newly noble Jack and the stand-up President Taylor, who will be the first to blink? The possibilities are exciting, especially for those hoping "24" can right its course this season.

For everyone else, it'll just be the inauguration that you don't have to lobby a congressperson to get into.