Tim is a joker at school and a bully at home, spending his evenings spraying graffiti around London.
His father is dead, and Tim (Harry Jarvis) responds by making life as difficult as he can for his mum, while his younger sister Shona struggles to internalise her grief and pain so as not to cause her mother more distress.
And he is really mean to Shona. Nervous about that day’s school poetry slam, she’s desperately trying to learn her poem. “You don’t need to worry about the poetry comp,” he tells her. “You’ll be crap anyway” before sneaking her printouts into his bag.
At school Tim is in love with fellow pupil Georgia, but is completely unaware that best friend Vic (Ella-Rae Smith) is in love with him. Probably for the best, as their friendship group also includes Alf (Alhaji Fofana) and we all know what happens when two people in a group of three pair up.
It’s on a school trip to the Natural History Museum that the trio breaks free, desperate to escape their boring teacher, glumly and needily intoning to the class by the diplodocus (and I was glad to discover I’ve been pronouncing that correctly all these years, despite the attempted invasion of “dip-loe-doe-cus”).
Heading into the bowels of the building, they find a gloomy tunnel and at the end of it the slightly mad-eyed and very mad-haired scientist Lena Eidelhorm (Siobhan Redmond), announcing a huge scientific development to what looks like a handful of journalists, enticed there by the prospect of a high-carb buffet.
Her big invention, the Vitalitron, is a personal doomsday clock – stand inside to be scanned and it’ll tell you exactly how long you have left to live. (You can bet your business start-up grant that one of the journos present will be pitching an article to the Daily Mail that gives several attractive mums makeovers in return for trying out the Vitalitron, their reactions – and house valuations – detailed for all to see.)
Backing Lena up via video conference is a shadowy and mysterious industrialist, Graud.
I say shadowy and mysterious, he’s played by Keith Allen so they’re probably not the right words. But he isn’t who he says he is; he’s actually a debt-ridden Brit called Mr Thompson, whose window backdrop of New York is as fake as his rather scattergun American accent. (Graud is never entirely explained, which I rather liked.)
Tim, being both a daft kid and slightly nihilistic after the death of his father, gets in the Vitalitron, and discovers he has only two hours left to live. Nobody seems to know if the machine is accurate. Is it even meant to work at all, or is it a big con from Graud? But the three friends set off to complete a rather hurriedly-written bucket list, just in case.
Actually they seem to believe rather fervently that he will die and are all remarkably calm about it. His list is rather sweet, and very local. They can’t get far in two hours, and they spend enough of it running and cycling around the streets as it is. There’s no point demanding to swim with dolphins when you’re miles from the sea and the transport links are rubbish.
And of course it’s really about finding out what (and who) is really meaningful to you, and pushing yourself to succeed. “Sometimes you have to really go for it. Do something that really scares you” says Vic as Tim tackles his fear of heights.
In some ways 2:Hrs follows a very British comedic tradition. Two journalists – like an Aldi version of David Walliams and Matt Lucas, the packaging and contents nearly the same but not quite – chase Tim and his friends down. They’re very funny at times, and far too much at others.
A teacher spouts what she thinks is cool kid talk; not particularly original, though she does manage the most natural-looking pratfall I’ve seen in a long while. And there’s a thuggish gallery owner with ART tattooed across his knuckles (spelled correctly, the counter-culture editors among you will be pleased to know).
This is a diverting movie that gets better as it goes on; the resolution ultimately surprised me, after initially following its expected trajectory.
It’s odd! Definitely quirky, sometimes befuddling, with lots left, intriguingly, hanging. At times 2:Hrs feels rather like one of those occasional Doctor Who episodes which has no Doctor in them, a sort-of sci fi tale set identifiably in the UK with ordinary people having to step up when life surprises them.
Tim also has a pet bug, weirdly alien-looking; it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. Is it just a cute joke? (It is a cute bug.) Or is it there to position this reality as slightly off-kilter, so what happens is accepted as simply normal without too many questions asked? If so it’s a clever device for a low-budget movie.
There are a lot more questions raised by the technology than answered. The Vitalitron itself has a homemade feel to it, and looks like a cross between a jukebox and an arcade slot machine.
But I liked the film, more and more as the story progressed. There’s a resolutely British humour to it, and it’s anchored resolutely in the teenagers’ world.
The three young leads are good with Harry Jarvis in particular delivering a nuanced performance as Tim in a role where it would be easy to offer over-the-top shrieking and declaming.
But the real standout is Fabienne Piolini-Castle, who is astonishingly good as Tim’s sister Shona. She steals every scene she’s in (and she’s not actually in that many of them). It’s a touching and moving performance of a fatherless teenage girl who struggles on, trying not to upset her mum, only able to give voice to the bullying and general nastiness of her brother in her poem for the school Poetry Slam (and it’s a really good poem).
It’s easy to say of a first-time feature director that you’d like to see what they do next, but with D. James Newton I really would. With a bigger budget how much of his quirky, slightly off-centre eye would survive? I hope he gets the chance to show us.
2:Hrs is out on VOD in the UK on 30 July 2018.
Watch the trailer for 2:Hrs here: