Toronto After Dark: ‘Sixty Minutes to Midnight’ is a Pulpy, Calculated Genre Film

by Christopher Cross
Published: Last Updated on

Making an action movie that replicates seminal classics is almost always a bad idea. That is, unless you’re Sixty Minutes to Midnight. Wearing its influences on its bloody sleeves, the film takes inspiration and runs with it, doing just enough tweaking to make it not feel like just a homage, but also an action movie worth viewing on its own merits.

Starring Robert Nolan as Jack Darcy (an obvious attempt at John McClane, if he was quieter but still pissed off at inconveniences), Sixty Minutes to Midnight sets up a night of games and bloodshed for its main protagonist. With no rhyme or reason, Jack becomes the main contestant on a game show where the rules are simple: you either make it to midnight alive and win a million dollars, or you die. Of course, what the host of the titular game show “Sixty Minutes to Midnight” doesn’t know is just how resourceful and resilient Jack is in the face of danger. So then begins a night of carnage, as Jack faces off against trained, armed men that want nothing more than to end Jack’s life before the clock strikes twelve.

Set on New Year’s Eve in 1999, there’s a level of paranoia with Jack that is established early on as he reveals a bunker stockpiled with guns and radios. However, in comes the main issue with Jack and Sixty Minutes to Midnight: there’s little more presented of his character once the carnage begins. He is mostly silent throughout all of the violence, despite sharing many moments that you see from the otherwise chatty John McClane. He tries to communicate on the radio, he plans ambushes on his opponents, and he is extremely resourceful — but Jack has nothing left in his life, and little to fight for.

Front-loading the film with all of the character moments is a misstep in trying to create momentum for the character, but director Neil McKay isn’t concerned with Jack’s development by the time the bullets start flying. It’s all about the momentum of the action, and the film does a very good job keeping everything moving while providing enough tension to keep the edge of your seat warm. As henchmen are introduced with their specific quirks, watching Jack try to take them down is increasingly more fun as time goes on. It’s well-shot, and has enough moments that feel calculated for maximum audience enjoyment — which fits perfectly with the film’s central conceit.

That conceit is not exactly the most endearing or particularly well-developed throughout Sixty Minutes to Midnight, but it does bring one of the film’s shining elements to center stage: its host. With a premise like this, you’d expect the host of a game show to root for the contestant, but in this case he mourns the people the contestant kills, and becomes increasingly more agitated that Jack is alive. Of course, there’s a million dollars on the line, and it’s in the host’s best interest to keep that money away from Jack. The negging that he delivers is both funny and subversive, as it accentuates the morbid nature of the game show and our fascination with violence.

It’s neat moments like that that make Sixty Minutes to Midnight fun, and not just another movie only interested in paying homage. McKay manages to make the film entertaining and lean, with an ending that is both cold and satisfying, even if he can’t help but make a few missteps along the way. Sixty Minutes to Midnight uses its inspiration to help get you in the mood for what it’s about to lay down, but then has enough tricks up its sleeve to feel wholly its own.

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