March 31, 2004

Such a Deal! Three Movies in One!

"Okay, I give up. I have no idea which movie I'm in."

by JEREMIAH LEWIS, American Digest Film Editor from Fringe

HOSTAGE OPENS with the kind of credit sequence that makes you think that maybe, just maybe it could be something different from the average "Bruce Willis Action" genre movie. And for a pristine forty minutes or so, it is. Helmed by video game director Florent Emilio Siri (yes, video games have directors too), Hostage is violent in much the same way as the remake of Assault on Precinct 13 --brutal, swift, and gory, but without the strong backing of a story that makes much sense in the long run.

Paying for a ticket to Hostage is a fantastic deal because you're actually getting three movies in one.

The first movie is about a dirty accountant who launders cash for some bad mob guys (who we never see in person, a nice touch). It stars Kevin Pollack as Walter Smith, the numbers runner and, Surprise!, well-meaning dad to Jennifer and Tommy (Michelle Horn and Jimmy Bennett).

The second movie involves three young hoods named Dennis and Kevin Kelly, and Mars Krupchek (Ben Foster), a psychopath hiding under a dark blue hoodie and long hippie hair. For no real reason to do so (stealing an Excursion? Please.), they break into the Smith house and take the Smith family hostage. They're bumbling idiots about it, natch, and Tommy Smith is a sight smarter than Garry Kasparov, so he trips the silent alarm. Within moments, a cop is dead, shot by a disturbingly quiet Mars, and Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis), head of the local po-po and still suffering from guilt over losing a kid in a hostage negotiation some years back, is on the scene and ready to turn things over to the better-equipped city police.

The third movie involves a mob scheme to grab the accountant and his number-running data. And what a scheme it is. They figure the best way to do that is to kidnap Talley's somewhat estranged wife and daughter and threaten to kill them if he doesn't give them the accountant and a specially encoded DVD with the information they need.

The convergence of these three storylines occurs when Talley reassumes command of the scene, leading to some unconvincing arguing between Talley and Laura Shoemaker (Tina Lifford). Talley thinks on his feet, concocting a plan to get the DVDs and the kids out of the house alive without tipping off the local cops that he's been compromised by the kidnapping of his family. But it's a plan fraught with inconsistency and marred by poor telling. Siri's over-attention to the stylized action sequences (few and not nearly satisfying enough to endure the rest of the dreck) leaves the bulk of the film in shambles, with an ending that is sure to confuse half the viewing audience and disgust the other half in its outright laughability.

Hostage was adapted by Doug Richardson (Die Hard 2, Bad Boys) from a Robert Crais novel. Each of the three stories is as convoluted as the next, but without any real reason for being so. There are more holes here than a golf course, a host of unanswered questions that Siri dangles and then yanks away, and after the first gut-wrenching, if stylized opening sequence, the film devolves into a gamer-pleasing blood pavilion.

The film does have moments of intense humanity. Walter Smith's kids are bright, plucky, but not without their issues, and give the film a bit of saving grace. The bumbling three youths are far less complex, though they're presented as alienated and hard-scrabbled, the only one who really comes to life is Mars, and his seeming inability to die, even after getting stabbed in the face and shot about three times, is exasperating, not to mention disturbing. Willis has some good moments, but not enough to save what is ultimately a muddled, by-the-numbers shooting frenzy in the guise of a humanistic thriller.

By the end, you may feel like the hostage victim. As you rise, just repeat to yourself, "It's only a movie. It's only a movie. It's only a movie."

Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe reviews films both at his site and American Digest. Lewis can be reached directly at

Posted by Vanderleun at March 31, 2004 11:30 AM
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