Great Scott! What a Fun Time (Travel)!

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There are three Indian movies that I’ve been anticipating for this year, the time-travel movie 24, Rajinikanth’s Kabali and the conclusion to Baahubali. The online hype for 24 has been quite unprecedented, overwhelming even, as were the glowing reviews. So much so that I completely missed its opening last week. I pretty much stumbled upon it when I headed to the cinema to see what was playing last week after a meeting in town.

Now, once in a while comes that rare movie, the movie that is so full of sprightliness and energy that it makes you forget everything else except what happens, or will happen, to the hero. 24 does exactly that.

There are a lot of time-travel movies and stories out there, and most of them fail to take advantage of the huge potential for upping the fun factor. Back to the Future did capitalise on that, piling on the twists and turns and silliness until it felt like there was nowhere left to go. And when time-travel stories are serious, they can be profound, like Chris Marker’s highly influential La Jetee.

24 is more of the former, and in fact, it’s closest to Back to the Future II in scope and plot. And like the BttF series, it’s not serious science. But really, who cares when you’re having so much fun? At its very core, 24 is a fable, a fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, it’s more like a cross between Harry Potter and Back to the Future. Everything is highly stylised and seems to exist in a heightened reality.

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The story involves a brilliant but dorky scientist who successfully invents a watch that can enable the wearer to travel back in time. His evil brother, in an attempt to steal the watch, ends up killing him, but not before he manages to hide his baby son on a train. Fast-forward to 26 years later, the son has grown into a handsome young man, and he somehow comes into possession of the key that opens a box containing the watch. Hilarity ensues when he learns of what the watch can do. He has fun playing Groundhog Day, especially while trying to woo a beautiful girl.

Like I said, the energy and the earnestness of the storytelling just sweep you away, making you disregard the many flaws in its story and several deus ex machina moments. Who cares about the unlikely secret ingredient that enables the watch to work? Who even cares how the watch works? Do we even want to ponder on the fact that passengers on a two-coach train can easily miss a fatal shooting at the end of the train? Do we want to consider the implausible coincidence of the key to the box ending up in the right hands (or on the right foot)? Do we really need to know the backstory of how the younger brother became so antagonistic against the older one?

But when the movie relies purely on twists and turns in its story, the imaginative plotting really shines. It’s a heavily plot-driven movie. Yet the one thing that also helps it along is the charisma of its lead actor Suriya who shows off truly impressive acting chops as he takes on triple roles. He’s so charismatic that you can’t take your eyes off him (uh, well, he’s in practically every scene). In one of the final scenes, when he pulls off what must be the most stylish reveals in a movie (I won’t spoil it for you), the entire cinema hall erupted in cheers.

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In hindsight, I think sitting in the cinema hall watching 24 helped me rediscover the simple joys of cinema, the kind of rapture we experienced when we were children experiencing movies for the first time. We didn’t care about the nitty-gritty, we didn’t care about the hero’s motivation or backstory, we didn’t care about the plot holes. We just wanted to know how he would overcome the seemingly impossible conflict that has been building up since the movie started.

In fact, because time-travel stories and movies always have holes in their plots in terms of the temporal juggling (like there’s an extra Delorean back in 1885 that was never addressed), I tried to look for holes in 24, but can’t seem to find any. Either there really aren’t any, or the movie’s high entertainment quotient simply overwhelmed me into submission.

I suspect it might be the latter.

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