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‘Hours’: In overlong drama, Paul Walker put to the test

‘HOURS’ ★★

Nolan Paul Walker

Abigail Genesis Rodriguez

Pantelion Films presents a film written and directed by Eric Heissere. Running time: 96 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements, violence and drug material.). Opens Friday at AMC Showplace Cicero 14 and on video on demand.

Updated: January 14, 2014 11:09AM

One of the last roles of the late Paul Walker’s career was also one of the most substantial and most challenging parts Walker was ever given.

Walker does some pretty solid work throughout “Hours.” (And if you’re looking to pique ZERO casual interest in your film via the title, by all means call it “Hours.” I mean, “Movie” would be a more provocative label.) One only wishes Walker had stronger, better developed material instead of a promising drama that eventually unravels and seems overlong even with a running time of 96 minutes.

“Hours” is set in the New Orleans of 2005, during and immediately after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. We get glimpses of the storm’s horrific power, mostly via news footage (and in one devastatingly effective moment when one character sees what has happened to his city), but much of the story is something that could have been staged as a one-man play.

In one of the few parts Walker ever played in which his All-American good looks and action star qualities are beside the point, he’s a normal, regular good guy named Nolan Hayes, who arrives at a New Orleans hospital in a state of semi-panic with his wife Abigail (Genesis Rodriguez), who has gone into labor five weeks before her due date.

SPOILER ALERT IN THIS PARAGRAPH! As the hurricane pounds into the hospital, blowing out windows and knocking out the power, things go tragically wrong with the birth. A grieving Nolan is left alone with his newborn daughter, who is on a ventilator and can’t be moved under the circumstances. A noble nurse and one of the last remaining doctors at the hospital give Nolan some hasty, rudimentary instructions on how to care for the baby — but when the levees break, Nolan is cut off from any immediate professional assistance.

There’s potential for a tense countdown thriller here, with the hours ticking by slowly and Nolan doing a kind of “Die Hard in a Hospital” survival routine — coming up with ingenious ways to keep the ventilator pumping, scavenging for food and IV bags, dealing with desperate, armed intruders. At times Walker seems to be shouting for shouting’s sake, but we believe his performance as a man still in shock from a devastating personal loss, trying to shake off that grief as he does his best to care for an infant in a dark hospital while the world outside is falling apart.

Unfortunately, first-time director Eric Heisserer ladles on far too many sugarcoated flashbacks chronicling the romance between Nolan and Abigail. Even more tedious is the inevitable appearance of a post-mortem Abigail as a soft-focus vision who appears to Nolan in a dream, gazing lovingly at their child and assuring him everything will be all right.

Given the stakes, this story should never lag, but it tries our patience. When a graphic tells us it’s been a day and a half since the power went out, it feels as if it’s been forever. Nolan’s been through more than anyone should be asked to endure, but he looks and sounds as if he’s been on his own for weeks, not 40 hours.

More than half of Walker’s scenes in “Hours” involve no co-stars other than his character’s brand-new daughter, or the rescue dog he finds in the hospital. There’s probably more dialogue for Walker in those scenes than in any three of the “Fast & Furious” films.

At 40, Walker no doubt understood he was never going to be Sean Penn — but he had a career to be proud of, what with the success of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, as well as roles in “Varsity Blues,” “She’s All That,” “Pleasantville” and “Flags of Our Fathers,” among other films.

It would be an insult to Walker’s memory to say his work in “Hours” represented some kind of breakthrough performance. It was a good performance in a flawed film — quite possibly the best acting he ever did onscreen.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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