Review: Hostage

A Heaven Can Wait DVD figures prominently in Hostage, but there’s more hellfire than wit or romance in Florent Siri’s thriller.

Photo: Miramax Films

A Heaven Can Wait DVD figures prominently in Hostage, but there’s more hellfire than wit or romance in Florent Siri’s thriller about a tense standoff between a local sheriff, teenage thieves, and mysterious corporate criminals. Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis) had been a hotshot L.A. hostage negotiator until he botched a case and got a mother and son killed. One year (and one unsightly salt-and-pepper beard) later, Talley has retreated to the Ventura County ‘burbs to take up the cushy position of local police chief. His professional reverie ends, however, after three punks take a rich father and his two children captive in the family’s luxurious house—introduced with a sweeping crane shot and ominous music as if it were The Shining’s sinister Overlook Hotel—and shortly thereafter kill a policewoman. Talley initially refuses to reassume his former role as police-crook mediator. Yet things become more complicated when hooded gunmen who want information possessed by the house’s owner (Kevin Pollack’s shady accountant Mr. Smith) kidnap Talley’s family and demand that, if he ever wants to see his wife and kid alive again, he assume control of the tense situation. Based on Robert Crais’s novel, Hostage’s cup runneth over with suspense film clichés: Siri’s infatuation with slow-motion shots of Talley running to the rescue; the cop’s triumph over self-doubt; and Mr. Smith’s young son eluding his captors long enough to relay vital information to his would-be police savior outside. Yet what makes the film so simultaneously idiotic and amusing is its devolution from a mildly engaging redemption story to an insanely exaggerated B movie full of hysterically amplified tension and blustery bad acting. Willis, wearing a hooded sweatshirt that makes him look like frumpy New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, assumes his superhero role with overwrought seriousness, and his overacting is complemented by Ben Foster as Mars, the lunatic member of the teenage hostage-takers who boasts a hilarious, only-in-the-movies habit of titling his head sideways and longingly staring into the face of his dying victims. Though he has his lustful eyes on Smith’s scantily clad daughter, Mars’s real passion—like any good psycho—is for blood and fire. And by the time he lights the mansion ablaze with Molotov cocktails during the uproarious inferno finale, he’s become a near-invincible monster who stalks around the burning abode with bombs in hand and a malevolent, maniacal upturned gaze that would make Jack Nicholson’s homicidal paterfamilias Jack Torrance proud.

 Cast: Bruce Willis, Kevin Pollack, Jonathan Tucker, Ben Foster, Jimmy Bennett, Michelle Horn, Jimmy Pinchak, Marshall Allman, Serena Scott Thomas, Rumer Willis  Director: Florent Siri  Screenwriter: Doug Richardson  Distributor: Miramax Films  Running Time: 113 min  Rating: R  Year: 2005  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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