A thriller with multiple personality disorder. Decent entertainment, nothing more.

Released in 2005, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 16 Mar 2005 by Scott Morris
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Strange little fruit, is Hostage. The sum total of my knowledge of it heading into the screening was that it was the new Bruce Willis film and that it was presumably about hostages in some form or another. Good enough for me, seeing as it already fulfills the single criterion for me wanting to watch it, that is it's a film. Easily pleased. That said, had I looked at the notices it's been receiving stateside I'd be getting worried. It's nothing like as bad as it's been made out to be, but that's not to say it's particularly good either.

Willis plays top flight hostage negotiator Jeff Talley, initially looking rather like a cross between Kris Kristofferson and Captain Caveman. After a arduous and eventually disastrous arbitration heads South, he decides to opt for a quieter, balder life in sleepy Ventura County as Chief of Police. His whiny daughter Amanda (Rumer Willis, actually Willis' daughter) isn't enthralled about the move away from the bright lights, but it won't be long before she's got something more upsetting to take her mind off it.

A situation develops when a trio of young vagabonds, Dennis Kelly (Jonathan Tucker), younger brother Kevin (Marshall Allman) and the improbably named Mars Krupcheck (Ben Foster) decide to rob the house of accountant Walter Smith (Kevin Pollack). In complete disregard for cinematic convention his kids Tommy (Jimmy Bennett) and Jennifer (Michelle Horn) seem to have some common sense, triggering an alarm that summons forth the police. One shooting and downed officer later and the police forces have laid siege to the Smith residence. Talley is happy enough to hand over the case to a neighbouring and better resourced P.D, but Talley turns out to be the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Evil forces of some generic evil evilly kidnap Talley's family in a most evil fashion indeed. Turns out Smith's been laundering cash for this shadowy syndicate of evil, and they need to recover a CD of Swiss bank account McGuffins Smith was due to drop off before the current unpleasantness. If Talley wants to keep his family alive he's got to keep the police out of the Smith residence until these evil chaps can get in to retrieve their cargo.

It's a hugely contrived setup, but somehow not offensively so. I can only attribute this to the sense that Hostage plays like four separate films with at least two different directors, keeping you so off balance as to forgive these foibles. Director Florent Emilio Siri hasn't got the longest track record, a few seemingly well regarded French action films and the cut-scenes to the Splinter Cell games to his credit. Quite why he seems to have selected the stylistics for each scene randomly from a hat on the day of shooting is beyond us. The opening credits seem like they would fit quite well in aforementioned videogames, impressive but oddly out of place, before settling into a fairly comfortable, conventional style. A few moments later and the camera's lingering over shafts of light casting interesting silhouettes over Willis. The oddly bombastic score introduces us to Smith's house in a flyover, but from the tone of the piece you'd be forgiven for thinking Emperor Palpatine lived there.

By the time the end credits role, this has moved from a tightly focused, taut thriller to a middle of the road action film by way of a short stint into slasher territory that thinks it's The Crow. You'd be forgiven for being dizzied by the ever-shifting stylistics, especially as it always touches base at some more familiar, expected style of the sort you'd probably have expected from the film going in. It takes these little diversions well enough that it doesn't quite ruin the movie, and if nowt else means that you've not seen any film handling the fairly familiar drama elements quite this way before. That's not to say it's actually a good idea to chop and change quite so much, and if only Siri had picked one ball and ran with it rather that juggling them we might be writing something a bit more ebullient than this case for the defence.

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For all it's faults, Hostage is a pretty enjoyable film. As happens so often we struggle to see exactly what many found so offensive about this flick. Willis, as ever, proves eminently watchable and gives us another reminder that he's not just an action hero with another believable portrayal of Talley's emotional state, even if the script asks for actions that stretch credibility. We're rather fond of the bloke round here and Hostage isn't going to damage that special relationship. He acts in films, we enjoy them. Bliss.

Mixed bag for the rest of the cast though. Pollak gets shuffled to the sidelines early doors, leaving his screen kids centre stage. Special notice must go to youngster Jimmy Bennett as a pre-pubescent kid who's not only playing a resourceful child, he plays it in a way that has you rooting for his survival rather than swift death which is something of a rarity in the genre. Michelle Horn is serviceable enough, but the triumvarate of hostage takers aren't quite up to scratch. The bickering between the two Kelly boys grows irritating quickly, and Ben Foster is sadly undermined rather than helped by Siri's effort to mix things up.

What Hostage does well is provide ninety odd minutes of engaging entertainment. No more, no less, but at least you won't walk out of the theatre feeling swindled. Despite a few incidental leanings it's not art, and it's not even close to being the finest example of the genre. Or any of the genres it takes its unexpected detours into, come to think of it. Workmanlike and competent, rather like this review, it's a decent enough film that's hampered by it's attempts to be different, but that's certainly not a trait we'd like to discourage. I'd certainly be interested to see what Siri does next, but this outing is only good enough to pick up a mild recommendation from us.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

Florent Emilio Siri
Cast list:
Bruce Willis (Jeff Talley)
Kevin Pollak (Walter Smith)
Jimmy Bennett (Tommy Smith)
Michelle Horn (Jennifer Smith)
Ben Foster (Mars Krupcheck)
Jonathan Tucker (Dennis Kelly)
Marshall Allman (Kevin Kelly)
Serena Scott Thomas (Jane Talley)
Rumer Willis (Amanda Talley)
Kim Coates (The Watchman)