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Alex Stroup, editor

Hostage

Bruce Willis returns to the big screen with new testosterone flick

Friday, March 11, 2005
by Alex Stroup, MousePlanet editor

Let's just get this part out of the way: Hostage is not a movie you want to take your kids to. If you object to language, then three f-bombs in the first 10 seconds will keep you away. If you object to violence, there are plenty of dead people on graphic display. If drug use will keep your kids out of a theater, there are a few instance of marijuana use. For everybody else, Hostage provides 90 minutes of hostage movie goodness.

Unfortunately, the movie is 110 minutes long.

Director Florent Siri initially provides intense visual style and pacing that combines well with the elements of a story by Doug Richardson (based on the novel by Robert Crais) that has enough elements to keep the ultimate resolution in the shadows. Then it all goes downhill, or rather it goes completely over the top, at which point it loses much of the audience.

Bruce Willis stars as Jeff Talley, a burnt-out L.A.P.D. hostage negotiator who packs it in to become the police chief for a suburban canyon community north of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, he ends up facing that which he was escaping. When three young punks invade the home of Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak) to steal his car, things go wrong and a hostage situation is in the works.


© Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

Things are much worse than they seem, though, since Smith is a bit of a shady dealer and some very important bad people want something that is stuck in the house. To make sure they get what they want, they take Talley's wife (Serena Scott Thomas) and daughter (Willis' real-life daughter Rumer Willis) hostage and provide instructions, which at odds with the welfare of the hostage Smith and his two children.

The hardest thing to achieve in hostage movies is uncertainty. In all but the rarest cases the viewer knows that all will end well. The setup for Hostage provides enough elements and competing interests to keep the possibility of a bad ending alive and even if it ends well, there is always the question of how well.

This suspense is built by the visual flair of Siri, who keeps the pace active without any wasted scenes. The parallel of the amateur situation at the Smith household with the extremely professional operation against Talley's family gives each an additional impact. There is much that is done well in Hostage; unfortunately, most of the movie's missteps can be placed squarely at his feet as he fails to maintain a consistent tone, and doesn't seem to know when to say, “OK, that's too much.”The first example of this hits you right away.

The opening credits for the movie are gorgeously rendered, computer-generated stills of police and other people dealing with a hostage situation. It is a wonderful sequence… for a different movie. The comic-book feel of the credits creates an expectation of whimsy and unreality that conflicts badly with the harshness of what follows. The overall quality of the movie wiped this uncomfortable shift from memory until the closing credits brought it back and I was left wondering what Siri's intent could possibly have been.

More importantly, Siri again loses the thread on the movie's tone and style when during a key confrontation, we're suddenly watching a John Woo movie with all-knowing, slightly superhuman bad guys engaged in choreographed gunplay, backed by swelling music and presented in slow motion. One brief moment of religious symbolism is so blunt, so unsubtle, that it comes very close to destroying the whole movie on its own. Fortunately there is a bit left after that so Siri has time to pull it back in a bit and reclaim some credibility.

Among the adults in the movie, Willis is the only one asked to do any acting, but it is a role he has down (even if just a month ago he said he was sick of “testosterone-packed films”and has recently signed on for a fourth Die Hard movie) and he doesn't expand on it. The three children mostly get to look scared, though Michelle Horn makes a good impression as Smith's 17-year-old daughter facing some pretty freaky behavior from one of their captors. The professional bad guys remain literally nothing but black masks throughout the movie so there is nothing to distinguish one from the other.

That leaves the three young intruders at the Smith home as the only real source of character interaction, and it is here where the film works best but also goes most overboard. Dennis and Kevin (Jonathan Tucker and Marshall Allman) are brothers, and Dennis isn't such a good influence on Kevin. Making things worse is a Mars (Ben Foster), a strange new friend of Dennis, who is constantly escalating Dennis' bad behavior. There is a sense of reality in watching Mars lead Dennis down a bad path with Kevin getting sucked along in their wake.

Eventually, though, the three are painted into too tight a corner and misused to advanced the movie.

If you liked movies such as The Negotiator (1998) or the inferior Metro (1997) then you'll certainly enjoy Hostage. If you prefer a hostage movie with a bit more introspection, perhaps like Dog Day Afternoon (1975) or the inferior Mad City (1997), then you'll probably be turned off by the moments when things turn from suspense to action. If you consider Airheads (1994) the epitome of the genre, then there's probably no helping you.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Alex here.


MOVIE DETAILS

Hostage is a Miramax Pictures release

Wide theatrical release: Friday, March 11, 2005

Directed by Florent Emilio Siri.

Screenplay by Doug Richardson.

Starring: Bruce Willis, Kevin Pollak, Jimmy Bennett, Michelle Horn, Ben Foster, Jonathan Tucker, Marshall Allman.

Rated R for strong graphic violence, language and some drug use.

Running time: 113 minutes.

Alex's Rating: 7 out of 10.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted “information junkie,” Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.

Click here to contact Alex.

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