By Shawn McKenzie 03/11/2005
Many reviews for Hostage have been commenting about the fact that star Bruce Willis’s action glory days are behind him. I don’t think that’s completely true. Willis has just experienced Murphy’s Law by starring in one of the most exciting and important action films of all time, Die Hard. He has had success in other genres like drama and most notably comedy (don’t forget that he became a “name” because of the ABC dramedy “Moonlighting”), but most people will always associate him with the action world, so when he makes any type of action film, it is always unfavorably compared to Die Hard. This isn’t fair, especially since this movie is still very good, even though it won’t reinvent the genre again.
Jeff Talley (Willis) is a veteran hostage negotiator in Los Angeles. He is scruffy-looking and looks like a mountain man, but he still prefers to reason with criminals holding people hostage rather than having sharpshooters kill them. On one unfortunate day, Jeff is trying very hard to convince a disturbed man named Joe Mack (Jamie McShane) not to kill his son Sean (Jimmy Pinchak) and his wife. Even though Jeff is very good at what he does, he fails to convince Joe to give himself up, and the man kills his son and wife, and then turns his gun on himself. This disturbs Jeff so badly that he quits his job not long after. One year later, he is completely bald and clean-shaven, and he is now employed as the police chief of a town called Bristo Camino in Ventura County, CA. His job is safe, but boring, and he essentially interacts with police dispatcher Louise (Kathryn Joosten, “The West Wing’s” late Mrs. Landingham) and officers Hector Ruiz (Hector Luis Bustamante) and rookie Mike Anders (Ransford Doherty.) Back at home, his family life is falling apart, with his marriage to his wife Jane (Serena Scott Thomas) heading for divorce and his teenage daughter, Amanda (Rumer Willis, Willis’s real daughter), acting rebellious in order to get back to her parents. Meanwhile, three teenage men are driving around town in their old pickup truck looking for trouble. Dennis Kelly (Jonathan Tucker), his younger brother Kevin (Marshall Allman), and their very messed-up longhaired friend Mars Krupcheck (Ben Foster) see wealthy accountant Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak) coming back from an errand to his Cadillac Escalade with his two kids, 14-year-old daughter Jennifer (Michelle Horn) and 8-year-old Tommy (Jimmy Bennett.) At first, the Kelly brothers and Mars talk about how nice it would be to have the Escalade, but when Jennifer flips Mars off, they decide to follow the car back to the Smiths’ house and steal the car. Despite their million-dollar security system, no one notices when the three boys enter the garage to try to take the car. They then get greedy though and enter the house. That is when Tommy finally notices the intruders and trips the silent alarm. Officer Carol Flores (Marjean Holden), who was in the area when the alarm was sent, responds to the call. By that time though, the three had already held up Walter and both of his kids for hostage. Walter tries to work with the Kelly brothers to get rid of Flores so that no harm would come to his family, but when the trigger-happy Mars shoots and mortally wounds Flores, things go from bad to worse. Mars then knocks Walter out and begins shooting at the car of the next cop on the scene, Ruiz, followed by Jeff in his SUV police cruiser. Jeff attempts to save Flores, who is by this time bleeding and crawling down the house’s front driveway, but he is unsuccessful and she dies. He calls in the S.W.A.T. team, led by Officer Laura Shoemaker (Tina Lifford) and hostage negotiator Wil Bechler (Robert Knepper.) Before they arrive though, Jeff appears on television apprising the media of the situation, prompting Tommy to believe that he is the man who he should be talking to in this situation (Tommy had gotten of his restraints by this time and had begun looking for a way out through the house’s air ducts.) As soon as the S.W.A.T. team arrives, he figures that it is okay for him to skedaddle, because he really wants to get home and try to work again on his marriage. On the way home, Jeff is held hostage himself by a shadowy masked figure in the back of his SUV. The masked man has Jeff pull into an alley, and he then shows Jeff what’s inside of the back of the van that’s pulled up behind his car…Jane and Amanda, all tied up. The man tells Jeff that he needs to go back to the Smith house and retrieve a DVD…the 1943 version of the movie Heaven Can Wait…burned onto disc by Walter that contains some encrypted information on it. The man knows all about Jeff’s background as a hostage negotiator, so he should be able easily to get his way in, but if he fails, they will kill his family. Fortunately, Jeff acquires an inside tipster: Tommy has called the sheriff’s department and has asked Jeff to help him save his family. Jeff uses this information, plus his experience as a hostage negotiator, to get his way back into the hostage situation. Back inside the Smith house, all three intruders have three things going on in their minds. Dennis wants the money that Walter has stored in his safe; Mars has twisted, naughty thoughts going through his brain regarding the scantily clad Jennifer; and Kevin just wants to get out of this situation alive. Jeff does whatever he can to save his family, even if it means compromising the safety of the Smith family.
The movie was based off a Robert Crais novel of the same name, and it was adapted into a screenplay by Doug Richardson for Cheyenne Enterprises (Willis’s production company) and Miramax Films. Willis bought the rights to the novel and hired French director Florent Emilio Siri, whose previous work had been helming the 2002 French flick The Nest and the video games Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (forgive my ignorance…but I didn’t know that video games had directors!) The movie opens with a really cool and noticeable title sequence (developed by a company called Specimen France) and an energetic, exciting score composed by Alexandre Desplat that drives the rest of the movie musically. The only reason why I mentioned these things is that they stood out at me after seeing many, many films with boring openings and a score you don’t even pay attention to half the time.
This movie is all Willis’s show. He is so tortured that he doesn’t get to use his trademark humor, but I don’t believe that the character was supposed to do that. That is reserved for Die Hard’s John McClane. The supporting cast is fine for their roles, though no one individual gets much screen time (funnyman Pollack is unconscious for half of the movie anyway.) The standout, aside from Willis, is Foster, who is deliciously warped as Mars. He dresses and looks like Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails, and you could picture him as a Columbine High School kid. There is a scene near the end of the movie where Mars is carrying two Molotov cocktails in each hand, looking like a minion from Hell. The way Siri frames Mars in that scene is sweet.
Now for my two minor gripes about the movie that make it not achieve a perfect rating. First…why is it that the Smith family had a million dollar security system, complete with security cameras hooked up to several monitors and a panic room…yet they couldn’t bother to hire a security guard to watch the monitors? The three goofball intruders easily entered the house without any problem! Second…Tommy was obviously more intelligent and observant than either his older sister or the intruders, and so the movie became the R-rated thriller version of Home Alone! These two things made an already hard-to-believe story just a little more hard to believe.
Otherwise, Hostage is a fun movie to check out at the theater. It was nice to see Willis in another regular action movie (rather than in an action comedy, like The Whole Nine Yards/Ten Yards, or a war flick, like Hart’s War or Tears of the Sun.) He is next going to be in Frank Miller’s Sin City (being released in April) and the next installment of the Die Hard series, Die Hard 4.0 (tentatively projected for release in 2006), so more action is obviously penciled into his schedule. As for this action movie, while it isn’t another action classic, it is one that will take your entertainment love hostage while at the theater, with only your soda and popcorn as bargaining chips.
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