21 Hours: Synopsis
Buckle up for the ride of your life.
When his dream car is hijacked, a high school football coach is seat belted in to a terrorist death trap and forced to play the unwilling suicide bomber in an Iraqi game of revenge roulette when he must race cross country in 21 hours flat to beat the clock to save his family – and his country.
Rural high school football coach DANNY MITCHELL (late 20s) gets his ass handed to him by a total stranger in a Jeep who beats his 1970 Challenger at an impromptu stoplight drag race. His humiliation is completed when, unable to match his competitor’s moves, his one-eighty onto the shoulder leaves just enough room for his neighborhood buddy, CHP JOHN, to pull up and park right alongside – lights flashing, ticket book at the ready.
When his due-any-second-pregnant wife, SARA (20s), sees the broken eggs and groceries tossed all over his car, Danny blames the mess on the jerk who cut him off – just about the time the victorious Jeep hauls threateningly up into their driveway! As he’s being tackled, Danny clues in that it’s his slightly estranged older brother, BLAKE (30s), an accomplished Marine, who’s just returned home from Iraq – and is just screwing with him.
Sara’s elated to see Blake again and eager for the brothers to get reacquainted. Blake shares that he met a girl. In Iraq. And he might ask her to move in with him when she gets home in a few weeks. They are shocked. Turns out she’s American. A Marine, too. They met when she saved his life by detonating a bomb. How hot is that?
When Danny shares that he’s entered to compete in an amateur race, Blake ridicules his dismal performance on his own home turf – not to mention the caliber of his car. Their divide deepens. Danny’s covets the race prize: the very first Saleen F-16 to roll off the line, a Dodge Challenger souped up by Steve Saleen into a SuperCar, built in honor of the US military, designed as an homage to the F-16 fighter jet. Danny begs Blake to help. Blake was a race car driver. He could help Danny win this. But Blake demolishes Danny’s hopes. Blake almost lost his life racing – a decade ago in a fiery crash – he’s not about to put his brother in a similar situation.
Danny explodes: “it’s a race for the rest of us” (i.e.: car enthusiasts, not professional drivers). Sara works her magic and manages to mend the chasm by giving Blake the insight that Danny’s always felt the underachieving runt in a family of war heroes – and win or not – this promises to be fun bonding for them.
Blake surprises Danny the next day when unveils his smashed up ’69 Charger – the car he almost died in – crumpled in a dusty mangled heap under a tarp in their parents’ barn. Still pissed, Danny misses Blake’s olive branch until he clarifies: he’s offering him a perfectly working and completely tricked out five hundred and fifty horse power, four twenty-six hemi – and his help installing it and training him. The brothers are – literally – off to the races.
Blake helps Danny soup up his car and hone his driving skills. Come race day, Danny does surprisingly well. He makes it through all the heats and the final race finds him head-to-head with the clearly superior AMEER HAIDER (40s), a formidable Iraqi. Pit support HAKIM HAIDER (30s) does a last second check on Ameer’s tires.
Danny performs admirably but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be enough to win until Ameer blows a tire seconds before the finish line. Danny manages to snake around him for the win. Suspicious, Blake’s military instincts kick in – which insults Danny in his triumph. Danny can’t understand why Blake can’t just be happy for him and accept that he won fair and square.
It’s a long drive back home to California from Arizona, too long at least for about-to-pop Sara to make without stopping for the night. Danny’s only too willing to take his time joy riding in his new car and he tosses Blake the keys to drive his old Challenger home. Blake drives straight through, save an unexplained detour under a retired F-16 at the Arizona aircraft boneyard, followed with a random game of Texas Hold ‘Em at an upholstery shop.
When Danny gets home, Blake asks if he can take the new Saleen F-16 for a spin. Danny’s leery – but how can he deny him? Blake is half the reason he won it. But when Blake returns the car, Danny’s livid to see that his older brother inexplicably installed a real F-16 jet fighter seat into the car. He’s furious. Blake explains that those harnesses have saved his life many times. Danny doesn’t care. He wants the seat out. He’s gonna be driving in suburbia with a baby seat in the back. Blake agrees to take it out the next day but he needs to pick up his girlfriend at the airport.
The next morning, Danny and Sara are awoken before dawn by a pre-dawn call from Danny’s mother, MRS. MITCHELL (60s): Could Danny pick his father up at the air force base? This strikes Danny as odd since she’s never missed greeting him home from deployment in their forty-year marriage.
Indeed: she’s being held at gunpoint by a PALESTINIAN JIHADIST and a JORDANIAN MUJAHID who are coercing her into setting her son and husband up.
Unaware of his mother’s predicament, Danny’s eager to show off his new dream car trophy to his father, four-star GENERAL MITCHELL (60s) shares Danny’s concern that his wife isn’t there to welcome him home. He is disinterested in the car – that is until he discovers that his favorite, Blake, helped Danny prepare for and win it.
Still, he wouldn’t be an Air Force pilot if he weren’t a speed junkie and General Mitchell pulls his stick out a little during their joy ride home – that is – until it is cut short by CHP John giving chase. Only, it’s not John. It is John’s car that they recognize, but Hakim and an AFGHANI TALIB have relieved him of it – and are now hijacking Danny’s precious new ride.
The terrorists rig the supercharged car’s driver’s seat with C-4 explosives and load the dashboard with a live video chat-enabled iPad, waiting to play a video and another one set up as a red digital timer poised to tick down from 21:00 and a secondary GPS, destination pre-installed.
Forced back into the car as an unwilling suicide bomber, Danny is told if he gets out of his seat, his car will explode. He must follow their instructions or both his parents will die. Terrified, Danny pukes. His weathered veteran father tells his son to remain calm and follow their orders – as he’s knocked out with the butt of a rifle.
Peeling out for all their lives, Danny hasn’t a clue what to do but call Blake. Interrupted brushing his teeth, Blake is level-headed and laser-focused instantly. He gets Danny to play the video and overhears Hakim detail that their father’s military commands killed the former Iraqi Prime Minister’s youngest son and now the family is hell bent on revenge. As Danny is General Mitchell’s youngest son, he has just become a pawn in an Iraqi game of revenge roulette. Tousled and sexy in his shirt, Blake’s Lebanese-American girlfriend, MEIRA HAFSA (late 20s, early 30s), has her Beretta M9 loaded before she even gets her pants on.
Danny has been given twenty-one hours to make it from Barstow to Washington, D.C. He must hit several destinations and deadlines along the way – or U.S. landmarks will be destroyed. His speeding bomb is monitored non-stop via the Iraqi’s GPS. It’s not long before CNN is non-stop live over his high-speed plight – and the terrorists reign of terror spreads like wildfire across the nation – just as they wanted it to.
Blake warns Danny not to call Sara as there’s nothing she can do but worry and the distraction will be too much for him to bear. Blake promises he’ll make sure she’s safe. Blake and Meira race nearby to the Mitchell’s home. Getting there just as the terrorists are moving his mother, Blake and Meira miss the two key leaders who go on ahead but manage to perform a precise extraction to rescue Mrs. Mitchell. Saving your future mother-in-law from terrorists makes quite the first impression.
Danny finally breaks down and tells Sara what’s going on. She bears it nobly and doesn’t let him hear her cry. Blake collects her and safely ensconces their two precious family members at the hospital, surrounded by guards – and they race off to help Danny.
General Mitchell is held at gunpoint and ordered to call his good friend, GENERAL KEEFER (70s), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to deliver the terrorists’ demands: a full and complete pull out of Iraq in 21 hours. Impossible. Yeah, they know that. But Keefer’s on it, calls in PRESIDENT TATE (60s).
En route, Danny rallies support from family friend SHERIFF PARKER (50s) to turn those pit maneuvers around into a police escort. As Danny is understandably now the #1 suspect in CHP John’s murder (since he was seen screeching away from his patrol car not long before his dead body was found nearby), Parker has to shift the powers that be’s perception that not only is Danny not a cop killer – nor is he a criminal at all – but rather: he’s the victim.
Meira is adamant that she get into Danny’s car. Blake’s having none of that. But Meira makes a solid case. She’s a bomb and computer expert. And it’s kind of hard to sit idly on the sidelines with the necessary skill set and and watch your family-to-be careen in danger. Blake pulls strings to get Meira on an F-18 and she flies ahead to intersect with Danny in Arizona while a gas tanker refuels his two gas tanks at 70 mph.
Danny is grateful for the fast food handed in through the window by the truck driving tandem but he’s shocked that anyone is fool enough to crawl into his car with him – much less a woman. Given his predicament, Danny’s knee-jerk reaction is prejudice toward her Middle Eastern heritage. But thick-skinned and confident, Meira quips: “We’re not all terrorists” and Blake introduces them over the hands-free. Danny apologizes, sincerely.
Meira came bearing electronic gifts. Not only her own laptop and other counter-surveillance devices but CNN also asked her to bring a dash-cam and cell phone with her, to give their viewers vicarious shotgun seats, too. Meira connects the dashboard iPad monitor and Ameer, the evil mastermind, comes on screen – live.
Both Danny and Meira recognize him – but from different frames of reference – but there’s no time to compare notes. Even though Danny made it to his first destination, Flagstaff, on time – he had no idea what he was supposed to do or where he was supposed to go once he got there, so Ameer chalks that up as a miss and Danny and Meira are demoralized to see Ameer blow up Lake Havasu’s London Bridge live on the screen in front of them. But they don’t have time to grieve the innocent hikers and boaters that were killed – they can’t even slow down to think about it. Riddled with guilt, Danny must make his next deadline or more people will die.
Sara suffers helplessly in silence, watching the horrific ordeal unfold on TV. Her water breaks while she’s on the phone with her husband but she’s unwilling to add to his burden, so she stoically refrains from telling him she’s slipping into labor – and the stress is jeopardizing the baby.
Danny hits all his stops in record time in spite of every obstacle imaginable. After some drunk, fame-digging Frat Boys nearly kill him in a joy ride collision, Danny must persuade Good Samaritans to jump start his famous bomb.
Then, the Governor of Oklahoma refuses to let the traveling bomb cross his state line. He sets up a roadblock and there is a stand off between Texas and Oklahoma state police. Fans and protestors alike line the overpass and freeway. Political hierarchy prevails. The President supersedes the Governor’s federal jurisdiction with her national power and orders a couple of Huey Cobra helicopters to blast a path through the police barricade so Danny can get through. The President then asks Danny, knowing he’s not going to get out of this alive, if he’d be willing to drive his car into a sand-filled container to try to limit the other innocent casualties. Danny says as soon as she can confirm his father is safe, he’ll do whatever she asks – but not until then.
As dusk settles, it dawns on famous NASCAR driver, DALE EARNHARDT, JR., that Danny’s stock headlights won’t illuminate the pitch black of night at the speed he’s traveling. He saves the day and rigs his own race car with high-powered lights and the team caravans Danny safely through the night.
The car’s ECU light flashes and the car’s computer must be rebooted – but they don’t have time. They are confronted with quite the quandary: they can’t stop but they can’t go on. Meira turns off all the cameras and takes the batteries out of every piece of electronic equipment and in privacy, saves the day by jury-rigging the terrorists’ GPS to an algorithm that will make Ameer mistake a fake beeping signal for Danny’s car, misleading him into believing they made their destination by the deadline without him knowing that they’ve actually pulled over to make repairs and catch up. Danny insists that this is the perfect time for Meira to get out of the car safely. Meira agrees. They say their goodbyes.
The Pit Crew team has the car back on its electronic feet in under seven minutes but before Danny can take off – Meira’s back in his front seat?! Turns out, she didn’t have any way of knowing that their next destination involves a huge cloverleaf freeway interchange. She programmed the algorithm for a straight line. If they can’t make up the time and swap the signals before Ameer clues in, he’ll figure out their ruse and undoubtedly blow another landmark. They haul ass, catch up and swap out the “fake” car-signal – and the whole caravan cloverleafs in the pitch black at breakneck speeds just as Ameer comes on to congratulate them for having made the destination they missed. When dawn breaks, Dale hops out to shake Danny’s hand as a real American hero and loans him his helmet: “maybe it’ll help?”
Blake and his team of Marines have tracked down General Mitchell being held hostage on a houseboat. They deploy a swift, tactical rescue. The President informs Danny and he concedes to her containment plan. Snipers, ordered illegally by General Deaton, begrudgingly follow their orders to take out his tires and make it look like an accident. His glass t-top roof shatters but Danny escapes. Cleverly, Danny instructs Meira to track back the Iraqi’s GPS signal and discovers that Ameer is not in Washington, D.C. as was previously assumed – he’s hiding safely in Arlington, Virginia. Blake calls and talks to Meira and has her rig something under Danny’s seat. Danny freaks and pulls off to the side of the road. She tries to tell him something but he shoves her out of the car.
Along with the President and Pentagon staff, Ameer hears the roar of Danny’s car approach. Certain that Danny has reached his final destination, Ameer double crosses Danny and gives the order to blow him up, the Pentagon and all the rigged landmarks simultaneously. Ameer is more surprised than the President to discover that it’s actually Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s NASCAR that pulls up in front of the Pentagon as he tosses Danny’s swapped out and still-tracking GPS triumphantly into the air. The car bomb that Danny’s actually driving is headed – surprise! – straight for Ameer’s no-longer secret hold up.
Resigned to the fact that he’s not getting out of this alive, Danny says goodbye to his wife on his cell phone as his life flashes before him as he prepares to martyr himself for his country…