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'24' wraps up Jack Bauer's long day in typically violent fashion

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Time is almost up for the suspense action series starring Kiefer Sutherland as the infamous Jack Bauer. In its eighth and final season, the two-hour finale episode airs Mon., May 24 at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.

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By Tom Shales
Monday, May 24, 2010

You do have to wonder how Jack Bauer, maverick hero of "24," can stay hidden for so long when no matter where he goes, he always seems within range of a TV camera. Or six. In the last scene of the last show of the current season, which is also the finale to the entire series, the folks in the home office manage to locate Bauer in a junkyard where not just one but several cameras manage to catch sight of him.

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Good grief, they even have a selection of angles with which to, you should pardon the expression, shoot the poor guy.

Hi, Jack! How's tricks? Manage to save the world today? But of course he did. That's what he does, and what he's done repeatedly over the course of the series -- eight seasons of shows that amount to only eight days portrayed on the screen, because, of course, "24," unique among scripted television, takes place in "real time."

The two-hour finale Monday night at 8 on Fox thus covers just two hours -- two fateful hours -- on "Day 8" of Jack Bauer's eventful and adventurous life. With assistance from Jason Bourne, as played by Matt Damon in the hit, hot "Bourne" movies (and as originally played, ages ago, in a TV movie, by Richard Chamberlain), Bauer helps keep the Cold War alive.

This season, for instance, he's found that it's still unwise to trust "the Russians" -- or if you're determined to, then "trust but verify" (in the immortal words of Ronald Reagan) -- since the pesky sneaks have committed no end of skullduggery in pursuit of their ultimate goal, the signing of a bogus peace treaty. Bauer, meanwhile, has revenge on his mind, hoping to inflict payback for unspeakable acts committed against loved ones.

Bauer sometimes stoops to uncouth means of exacting vengeance. In the finale, he says, "Let me whisper you a secret" to a duplicitous miscreant (Reed Diamond, once a regular on "Homicide: Life on the Street"), and when the guy leans in -- chomp! -- Bauer does a Tyson on him.

Are we spewing spoilers here? Not really, because so much mayhem occurs in the course of the two hours that even viewers tipped off in advance are virtually guaranteed shocks and surprises. It's not really a secret that Bauer is still alive at the end of the show, because a movie version of "24" has already been announced, presumably with Kiefer Sutherland, who's played Bauer so flintily and furtively all these years, back in the role.

The cast seems to have improved over the years in some respects (though we knew we were in good hands with Dennis Haysbert as the first-season president).

Freddie Prinze Jr. should not to be overlooked in the role of one of Bauer's loyal allies. Prinze didn't set the world on fire with a sitcom he tried earlier in his career, but he shows an impressive prowess as a dramatic actor on "24" that might help him earn his own drama series eventually. Or he could star in a "24" spinoff, if anyone is interested in doing one.

Stalwart and vulnerable Chloe, Bauer's chief defender, is played with a strangely fascinating pouty paranoia by Mary Lynn Rajskub, an actor like none other working, while Gregory Itzin is properly creepy as ex-president Charles Logan and Cherry Jones exerts admirable authority as the current president, and part-time commie dupe, Allison Taylor.

It so happens that in the course of tying up loose ends in the final two hours, the writer treats us to a scene in which the current president pounds on the office door of the former president and shouts "Open the door, Charles!" -- unaware that Charles is inside with a loaded gun and an array of people, places and things at which to aim it.

Unlikely? It wasn't that long ago -- back in the late '80s or so -- when at least one young producer got laughed out of a Hollywood executive's office for proposing a screenplay in which the president of the United States was a principal character. No one, hooted the executive, would believe that the guy (or woman) on the screen was the president. Too preposterous.


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