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Hostage   D+

Miramax Films

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Florent Siri
Writer: Doug Richardson (based on the novel by Robert Crais)
Cast: Bruce Willis, Kevin Pollak, Jimmy Bennett, Michelle Horn, Ben Foster, Jonathan Tucker, Marshall Allman, Serena Scott Thomas.

Review by Sean O'Connell

Remember that stretch during the early 1990s when every action movie could be condensed into a "Die Hard on a (fill in the blank)" summary? Jan De Bont's Speed was "Die Hard on a bus," and the Steven Seagal vehicle Under Siege became "Die Hard on a boat." Well, Hostage is a vintage throwback to that formula, subtly manipulating a fine and fast-moving Robert Crais novel until it becomes "Die Hard in a hostage situation."

Miramax guarantees their outcome by hiring screenwriter Doug Richardson, a predictable scribe responsible for Bad Boys, Money Train, and -- surprise, surprise -- Die Hard 2: Die Harder. Which is fine, because if your goal is to put Bruce Willis through the paces of his lone-wolf hero role and (here's the important part) the actor is willing to participate, then why not score a seasoned pro who has already shuffled down this path? At least you know what you're getting. And now, so does the audience.

Richardson doesn't so much adapt Crais' story as he revisits his favorite moments from forgettable Willis films. Our hero, looking like he's seen all this before, plays Jeff Talley, a burned-out hostage negotiator who has taken the chief-of-police assignment in a quiet California town after a particularly tense standoff ends horribly.

One fated evening, though, a new hostage situation shakes Talley from his self-induced seclusion. Three wired teenagers bully their way into the home of mob accountant Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak). They knock Smith cold and shackle his two children, but quickly realize there's no easy way out of this sticky jam. Now Smith's high-powered criminal employers want the situation defused and they manipulate Talley into intervening on their behalf.

One early problem derails Hostage. The teens' motivation for their crime -- they want to steal Smith's car -- doesn't convince us these kids would go to such lengths to infiltrate the heavily secured mansion (Crais' book gave the three delinquents a far more realistic excuse to enter the house, though Richardson felt the unfortunate need to change it).

Hostage goes on to employ a hurry-up-and-wait approach. It rushes its setup, then asks the characters to circle repetitively until Willis gets around to saving the day. Teen leader Jonathan Tucker ratchets his performance to manic levels. Ben Foster, meant to counterprogram Tucker's hysteria, plays strong, silent teen thug Mars, though he's never as menacing as the role requires. Young Jimmy Bennett is memorable as Smith's resourceful son, Tommy, even though we realize he's just a junior John McClane whose purpose is to foil the teenagers from the inside. He even spends the bulk of the film crawling around an airshaft. He doesn't say, "Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs." But you know he's thinking it.

Hostage earns its R rating. Children die, and cops are murdered in cold blood. By the film's conclusion, Willis grows tired of the holes in his plot and starts putting holes in the bad guys. This from a guy who swore off action movies. In a 2003 interview with film journalist Glenn Whipp, Willis promoted Tears of the Sun by stating, "For a long time, I haven't been interested in making a Bruce Willis action movie. That would bore me, and I think the audience would be bored, too."

He's right. Hostage is a bore. For the record, Willis recently announced he'll team with Richardson for the fourth Die Hard, due out in 2006. You can't make this stuff up.

Review published 03.09.2005.

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