*** (out of 5)
March 11, 2005
Bruce Willis as JEFF TALLEY
Kevin Pollak as WALTER SMITH
Jimmy Bennett as TOMMY SMITH
Michelle Horn as JENNIFER SMITH
Ben Foster as MARS KRUPCHECK
Jonathan Tucker as DENNIS KELLY
Marshall Allman as KEVIN KELLY
Directed by: Florent Emilio Siri
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
On the surface, “Hostage” looks like just another action film with Bruce Willis. And that’s exactly what it is. It involves a hostage situation, Willis has his head shaved and he plays a guy in law enforcement. In fact, “Hostage” plays so much to Willis’ strengths that it could have been called “Die Hard 4: Die Even Harder.” (For “Die Hard” fans out there, don’t worry. The fourth movie is in the works already.)
But the story isn’t about John McClane. It’s about a washed out hostage negotiator named Jeff Talley (Willis) who is now marking time as the head of a police department in the relatively low-crime area of Laurel Canyon north of L.A. After a botched hostage situation years ago that led to the death of an entire family, he’s not just having work problems but family problems as well.
Meanwhile, a group of young punks decide to break into a house in the area. They’re not too experienced, and their attempt to steal a car or two ends up with them holding a family at gunpoint while every police officer in Ventura and L.A. Counties descend upon the house.
To make matters worse, the father in the family (Kevin Pollak) is an accountant for the mob and is set to deliver some critical files he has burned to a DVD. In order to ensure the delivery of this DVD, the mob takes Willis’ family hostage and use him as a mole to get the DVD. (Of course, they just tell him to get a DVD from the house. They don’t even tell him it’s a data DVD, what it looks like or where he can find it. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but that’s par for the course when it comes to many plot points in this film.)
There were a lot of problems with this set up. For a guy who has such a powerful security system, it doesn’t seem to prevent (or even notice) a trio of punks climbing over the gate. Also, considering the homeowner is an accountant working for the mob, you’d think he would be a little more paranoid. Finally, there are colossal goofs on the police department, like an officer checking out a silent alarm who keeps her back to an open gate, allowing herself to be shot – and when she’s shot, she just stands there waiting to be shot again.
As the brooding, washed out action hero, Willis is totally in his comfort zone. However, when he moves into the distraught father, he starts to break down. The opening scene is almost directly out of a “Die Hard” film, only this negotiation results in the death of the hostages, one of which includes a young boy. This is actually a very intense scene and is quite disturbingly violent to start off the film. A bloody, dying kid is a little bit much to watch for an escapism movie.
The villains are pretty weak and two-dimensional. They’re just punks in the wrong situation. One of them is the ringleader who has a rap sheet a mile long, and the filmmakers try to paint him as a crazy man. In the middle of the film, he becomes a caricature of other bad guys, becoming obsessed about the teenage daughter. It’s a bit much, but at least they didn’t stoop to the obligatory rape or molestation scene that seemed to be inevitably coming.
One of the things that was very refreshing about this film is that it avoided some major cliches. It didn’t avoid all cliches, mind you. There is still plenty of uncreative plot points in this movie. But it was nice to see a movie that didn’t have the line-up of corrupt cops usurping the system.
It was a neat touch to have these kids stumble into a hostage situation and be treated like master criminals. It reminds me of the manhunt for Andre Cunanan after he assassinated Gianni Versace. The media made him out to be the next criminal mastermind, but it turned out he was just a young punk who killed himself at the end.
This first half of the movie is one big horse pill of unbelievability – from the “accidental” hostage situation to the utter bumbling of the authorities. But if you can choke all of it down, it leads into a pretty decent second half… well, a decent hostage movie at least. Hey, what did you expect? It’s Bruce Willis.