Sometimes my job is pretty superfluous. Say the words, "Hostage! Starring Bruce Willis!" to yourself out loud, preferably in a gravelly voice. Got a pretty clear mental picture, don't you? You can bet on some gunplay, some children in peril, and close-ups of Bruce's sweaty bald head. His daughter is probably involved somehow, as is an estranged but loving wife.
Far be it from me, or the producers of the movie, to shake your fragile foundations. Luckily, the comfort zone of knowing what to expect doesn't make Hostage a bad movie, though it does show just how narrow the confines of the genre can be.
Kevin Pollak) and his two kids turns into a personal nightmare for Talley when it turns out Smith has something the cops can't have and the kidnappers don't know about. Shadowy forces strong-arm Talley into triple jeopardy, pitting him against the cops, the kidnappers, and his own conscience.
Suspenseful, huh? For the first couple of reels, anyway. The road to Talley's final confrontation with his various antagonists is littered with the usual devices: daring escapes, annoying children in distress, and phone conversations tenser than a 4 a.m. booty call from Roseanne Barr. But director Florent Siri knows how to draw the tension out, ably giving us just enough pathos to spread the sympathy where it's needed. Notable exceptions are Smith's negligible daughter (Michelle Horn) and her shrill little brother (Jimmy Bennett).
Other than that, the cast keeps us sweating right along with Talley. This is the kind of role Bruce Willis was engineered to play, a retrofitted version of Die Hard's John McClane with a mild adjustment on the vulnerability meter. Ben Foster rounds out the trio of kidnapping teenage malcontents with a cool menace that's put to the test when he somehow morphs into an unstoppable punk zombie by the end.
What keeps Hostage from being a great movie isn't its predictability. All the usual ingredients are there, but there are enough twists to ratchet up the stakes periodically and make for a complex chess match between Talley and his various tormentors. Unfortunately, somewhere toward the last third the movie puts that game aside and just decides to arm wrestle instead. The action movie it then becomes is capably filmed with plenty of flames and slow-motion cannon fodder, but it still leaves us wondering: why the title? I guess being a hostage movie (and a good one) wasn't enough.
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