Any Bruce Willis film is a risky venture for the moviegoer. For every decent Twelve Monkeys or Pulp Fiction work, there’s a sewer full of Hudson Hawk, The Last Boy Scout, and Last Man Standing projects . Employing Die Hard 2 screenwriter Doug Richardson increases Hostage’s odds of being an entertaining popcorn flick, but that’s about the extent of the positives. Hostage fails to live up to its intriguing trailer. After an interesting first scene with hotshot LAPD negotiator Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis) blowing a hostage situation, the film degenerates into a predictable march of cardboard characters through a television thin plotline, enhanced by big budget window dressing. Flash back to Panic Room, and you’ll soon realize that you’ve seen this movie before.
After the initial failure, a broken Talley attempts to wash the murdered child’s blood off his hands, transitioning to years later when the haunted bearded negotiator has become the stoic clean shaven present police chief of upscale Bristo Camino. It’s a bucolic burb where every day is a “low crime” day, but naturally that that is about to change.
With plans of joy riding in luxury, a trio of teens tails a Cadillac Escalade to its secluded valley location, but their escapade turns totally awry when the divorced father turns in a silent alarm. Before long, a police officer is felled and the crime scene has escalated to a family hostage situation. Multiple complications ensue when the teens interfere with the father’s business deal. Oblivious to the fact that the wealthy Mr. Smith (Kevin Pollak) is deeply embedded in white collar crime, the hostage takers now have both the police and Smith’s corporate partners against them. And before long, the corporate bad guys have kidnapped Talley’s own estranged wife and daughter to guarantee that their package is delivered.
Talley also discovers that he’s misread the hostage situation when he discovers that one of the kidnappers is possibly psychotic, but only a total doofus doesn’t realize that this will all resolve itself with a Hollywood ending. Considering the pedestrian directing of Florent Emilio Siri in his first major U.S. feature, would a studio risk this much money on anything but standard formula fare?
Don’t expect Ben Foster to highlight his turn as psycho villain Mars on his resume. Whoever instructed him to look longingly at his potential victims while simultaneously tilting his head to the left, should be shot. The role simply comes across as the most contrived troubled teen role in recent history, and the scripted blurb about his psycho motivation certainly didn’t come from deep research into child psychology. Of course, shallow audiences will root for Mars to die at all expected opportunities—theaters could try showing this at midnight with cue cards and hope to recoup their losses by promoting this as a cult melodrama.
Faring much better is Jimmy Bennett as the cute kid (Tommy Smith), who wanders through the hidden vents of the house and uses a cell phone to cue Talley about what’s going on inside. His previous credits include several voice acting roles, so this marks an impressive on screen debut that is likely to lead to others.
The only major star, Willis earns his paycheck by sleepwalking through his role—alternating between boredom and bursts of macho heroism. Hardly known for emotional range, does manage a few sympathetic looks but goes over the top slow motion contortions, which the director can insert for either anguish or overwhelming “joy.” Willis wasn’t hired for his acting ability here. With an obscure director and surrounded with a cast of character actors and unknowns, Miramax expected Willis to be Willis to draw the expected box office receipts.
Best bet—rent either the original Heaven Can Wait or the Warren Beatty remake since the film prominently promotes the DVD in Mr. Smith’s collection. Either of those contains far more surprises and engaging characters than Hostage.