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Stick ’em up: ‘Hostage’ kidnaps its audiences with shlock and awe


Miramax Films

Directed by Florent Emilio Siri

Written by Doug Richardson and Robert Crais

Based on the novel by Robert Crais

Starring Bruce Willis, Jimmy Bennett, Jimmy Pinchak, Ben Foster, Michelle Horn and Marshall Allman

Opens March 11, 2005

Rated R/102 minutes

Two and a half out of four stars

Patiently peeling back “Hostage’s” wilted cinematic roughage-ignoring the swelling French horn chorals and gratuitously tear-stained action peril-viewers will find at its core a fairly decent, tightly wound thriller.

But, anytime audiences have to sift through a virtual landfill of conventionality to get at the heart of a film, it goes without saying that there’s more schlock than substance.

Bruce Willis stars as Jeff Talley, an ex-LAPD hostage negotiator who, after a miscalculation on the job escalates into a heart-rending tragedy, trades in urban stress for a decidedly cushier suburban police chief gig.

A small gang of disgruntled, derelict teenagers-the spasmodic Dennis (played by Jonathan Tucker), his benign little brother Kevin (Marshall Allman), and Dennis’s sociopathic buddy Mars (played with startling intensity by Ben Foster, of “Flash Forward” fame)-whimsically decides to take the rich Smith family hostage. The impossibly precocious Tommy Smith (played by Jimmy Bennett), who’s supposed to be younger than 8 years old, somehow has the wherewithal to trip the silent alarm, precipitating one of Talley’s officers to attend to what she thinks will be a routine security system check. The steely-gazed Mars caps her upon arrival.

Momentarily, the cavalry arrives, bringing with it a full-fledged shootout. The Smith estate becomes a veritable fortress, and soon hundreds of cops abandon their posts to lend aid to the burgeoning fiasco. Los Angeles, as everyone knows, is a crime-free city with police manpower to spare.

Coincidentally, Mr. Smith (played by Kevin Pollak) cooks the books for some very powerful, odious individuals. Mere minutes before his house is infiltrated, he finishes encrypting and copying a good portion of the incriminating bank information onto a disk. To protect his clients’ interests-all of which seem to be on that stupid disk-the faceless syndicate kidnaps Talley’s family, essentially strong-arming him into doing their bidding.

Hence, “Hostage’s” tagline: “Would you sacrifice another family to save your own?”

Foster is absolutely marrow-chilling as the brooding, laconic Mars. He unflinchingly kills over and over, thereafter only cocking his head to detachedly observe his victims’ final gasps before calmly walking away.

The Jeff Talley persona appears tailor-made for Willis, who slips comfortably into all facets of his character, and is surprisingly convincing in emotionally charged scenes.

Put your brain in your pocket and enjoy it-immerse in “Hostage’s” story. Yes, it’s dumb and derivative, but the key to enjoyment in this case is to leave all expectation in the toilet. This is America. We don’t have to think.

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