- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

What’s artsy Miramax doing backing a movie like “Hostage”? The director has a fancy name and hails from a fancy country (France’s Florent Siri, making his English-language debut). The photography is stylish and dark, the camerawork vertiginous. But other than that, this is a standard-issue siege thriller with standard-issue bad guys and above-average blood and guts.

It’s written by a guy, Doug Richardson, with “Bad Boys” and “Die Hard 2” on his resume — that should give you some idea of its non-Miramaxian spirit.

It’s also a hoot: taut, sly of humor (“Heaven Can Wait” DVDs, original and remake, figure into the plot) and rarely boring. Rarely believable, too, but since when does anyone hold that against the Weinsteins?

Bruce Willis, at first look, is a trampy-looking cop leading a Los Angeles hostage negotiation team in a ticklish, could-get-deadly standoff with a nut case. Mr. Willis’ Jeff Talley is unflappable, the picture of SWAT sang-froid; he grooms his scraggly beard with a comb and tells a sniper to hold his fire — you just know he’s been through this a hundred times. But then the situation spirals out control, and a mother and son end up dead, their blood symbolically on Talley’s hands.

So Talley pulls a reverse-hippie, shaving all facial and head hair, and takes a job as sheriff in a town deep, deep in the San Fernando Valley. It’s the kind of sleepy getaway where traffic cops are scolded for wearing sneakers, and in-house slogans such as “Tomorrow will be No Crime Tuesday” aren’t meant ironically.

That is, until a few boys from the wrong side of the tracks let class envy and greed (and worse) entice them to the cliffside estate of a rich, nebbishy accountant (Kevin Pollack) and his two children, cute young Tommy (Jimmy Bennett) and older, bratty Jennifer (Michelle Horn).

One home invasion and one dead police officer later, Bristo Camino, Calif. is the stuff of 24-hour-cable breaking news, a million watts of floodlights and helicopter rotor racket.

The bad boys are led putatively by Dennis (Jonathan Tucker, “The Deep End”) but, in actuality, it’s creepy Mars Krupcheck (Ben Foster) who’s pulling the strings. Dennis’ younger brother Kevin (Marshall Allman) is innocently dragged into the whole mess.

“Hostage” tries to grab nerves harder than its precursors (a Vulcan mind-meld of “Panic Room,” “The Negotiator” and a smidgen of “Cellular”) by throwing not one but two hostage crises at the audience. The twist is that another, unidentified set of bad guys with connections to the accountant grab Talley’s wife and daughter to gain leverage over the negotiations. (As in the “Die Hards,” Mr. Willis is estranged from his wife.)

Mr. Willis is wonderful to watch lately because he doggedly resists overacting; he plays it right down the middle, Jeff Talley-cool. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Mr. Siri. The director takes “Hostage” for a long, overly stylized detour with Mr. Foster’s Mars, who morphs into a villainous version of the avenging angel in “The Crow.” He has designs on teenage Jennifer, and the time wasted on this tritely written encounter would have been more usefully spent explaining who those other bad guys are.

Once the body count begins to mount, though, that kind of thing stops mattering. Indeed, “Hostage” gets gruesome enough to send Jeff Talley back to the City of Angels.

**

TITLE: “Hostage”

RATING: R (Graphic violence; profanity; drug use)

CREDITS: Directed by Florent Siri. Produced Mark Gordon, Arnold Rifkin, Bruce Willis and Bob Yari. Written by Doug Richardson, based on Robert Crais’ novel. Cinematography by Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci. Original music by Alexandre Desplat.

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes.

WEB SITE: https://www.miramax.com/hostage/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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