Director: Tony Piccirillo
Stars: James Marsden, Scott Speedman
Available on DVD - order here
Twenty-four days after he’s learned of his HIV seroconversion, Tom (Scott Speedman) tracks down Dan (James Marsden), who he believes infected him. Tom takes Dan home, handcuffs him to a chair and withdraws some of Dan’s blood. Tom plans to test the blood sample and if it comes back positive, kill Dan.
The highly-strung 24th Day began life as a Los Angeles stage play, with Noah Wyle from television’s “E.R.” playing one of the lead roles. The stage origins are fairly apparent, as ninety percent of the action - almost all of which is spittle-spray dialogue between the two actors - takes place within the four-walled set of Tom’s shadowy apartment.
The static, stagey Death and the Maiden template isn’t a very good basis for any film and here it’s made worse by very safe script choices and a most unwelcome series of lectures on safe sex and discrimination.
Yet, writer/director Picirrillo, who based the story on his own experience with a nasty case of strep throat that developed soon after a one-night-stand, said he didn’t want one of the characters to be the hero, and the other the villain. “I really tried to have you shift back and forth in who you are feeling for as you are watching it,” he says in the press notes, but this is a little bit of a problem when one of the characters is tied to a chair beggin for mercy and the other is pacing around the room mumbling incoherently and generally acting in an unhinged manner.
The slips into generic moralising are a little hard to take also with Dan at one point trying to placate his captor with the reminder that these days, HIV isn’t a death sentence anyway, so he really is over-reacting (oh, please). Elsewhere, Tom’s ambiguous sexuality is ironed-out by a cheesy discussion about how HIV can be transmitted heterosexually also, and therefore assumptions that HIV equals gay are unfair and untrue; in lieu of suspense, we end up eavesdropping on a particularly dull conversation.
But the film’s merits include the generally steady hand of the director, and the watchable charisma of his two spunky leads. Picirrillo, though filming in digital, mostly avoids the temptation to let gimmickry pass for film making. There’s the odd jerky jump cut and moodily-lit flashback scene, but apart from this, he holds his camera steady and proceeds in a calm, restrained manner. The WeHo gay scene is filmed as a shadowy, threatening place and it’s satisfying to finally see a HIV-themed story that shows a bit of gay-darkness. Also interesting to see that both actors, despite being very attractive and having large teen-fan followings, keep their shirts on for the film’s duration.
Marsden, “Cyclops” from the X-Men films, is a very sexy hostage. Clean cut but with a slutty look in his eyes, he’s just the kind of guy you’d want handcuffed to a chair in your kitchen. Even though the dialogue is usually working against him, he somehow seems believable and never overplays, even when he’s staging a dramatic escape attempt with a snow dome. Speedman is also quite good as the overwrought semi-psycho and he too manages to make the most out of a part that has him say lines like “what’s wrong with Kate Jackson?”