Hostage (R)

Bruce Willis, sporting the comb-over of the new millennium, salvages what is an otherwise pedestrian story of families in crisis. Give Willis his props.

The guy not only has the guts to embrace male-pattern baldness whole-heartedly (he isn’t even afraid to grace the big screen sans toupee), but it is clear that he has spent a lifetime honing his craft. Beginning with “The Sixth Sense,” Willis has added depth and breadth to his ever-increasing repertoire. Gone of the days of “bears bearing” and “bees being” (Moonlighting). While his glib “yippee cay yea” attitude still remains beneath the facade, it is clear that fine acting, like a certain alcoholic beverage Jesus once made from water, improves with age.

“Hostage” opens to find Willis playing Jeff Talley, SWAT officer, Hostage negotiator, and graying hippie. He’s an overconfident bloke who spends more time meticulously combing his beard than he does listening to his closest advisers. When a hostage situation goes painfully awry, Willis leaves the big city life behind to become a police chief in the tiny community of Bristo Camino where “low crime Mondays,” are almost always followed by “low crime Tuesdays.” Furthermore, Talley’s recent emotional woes threaten to tear his family apart.

Enter three punks driving a beat up pickup truck with nothing better to do than try and steal a brand new Cadillac Escalade owned by a very rich, and very connected, accountant (Kevin Pollack). When the bush league hoods can’t find the keys, they decide to burgle the home, which is nothing short of a fortress. Things soon spin quickly out of control; a cop winds up dead and Talley calls for reinforcements, turning the negotiations over to another, thereby washing his hands of the entire affair.

Unfortunately, the mob doesn’t seem too happy about the fact that their ace accountant has garnered national attention. They want something very important, which is coincidentally being held hostage right along side the accountant and his family. In a desperate move, the bad guys kidnap Talley’s wife and daughter, threatening their lives unless Talley can produce this thing they so desperately seek. It’s the kind of role that allows a veteran actor like Willis to carry the show, reminding us of why he became such a huge box office star.

Aside from the complexity of the plot, Doug Richardson’s adaptation of Robert Crais best-selling novel winds up being uniquely simplistic in places. Florent Emilio Siri’s visual style is stunning for the most part. To date, he’s probably most famous for his direction of video games but he definitely has the chops for directing. The closing sequences are particularly captivating and intense. However, his exodus from the video game industry is probably to blame, at least in some part, for some scenes that skirt a little too close to the sadistic.

Pollack’s talents are pretty much wasted in this flick because he spends most of the film lying unconscious on a gurney, but there are some pretty capable young actors in this film, especially Ben Foster, who can be a pretty scary guy when he wants to be. Jonathan Tucker and Michelle Horn also demonstrate a great deal of range even if their characters are severely underdeveloped.

“Hostage” offers up a lot of intensity and an adequate suspense. It’s hard to say where “Hostage” comes up a little short. It just does. I’ll give it a MATINEE rating buoyed by Bruce Willis in a performance sure to be overlooked. Simply put, he’s at the top of his game and even though “Hostage” will most certainly struggle at the box office, with Robert Rodriguez’ gritty take on Frank Miller’s “Sin City” hitting theaters April Fools Day, we’re sure to see more of Willis and his vastly improved talents.

From a Christian Perspective:

Hostage is not for the feint of heart. It is a gritty, violent story, about desperate people in desperate situations. The violence is pretty graphic in a few places, bordering on sadistic, and the language used by some of the characters is quite vulgar. There’s also some sexuality that involves one of the young robbers and the teenage daughter of the family he holds captive, but nothing bad really happens with that scenario. The main character played Bruce Willis (Jeff Talley) is an exceptional man placed in a precarious position. He’s dedicated to his family and to saving lives and perhaps that alone makes Hostage worth watching. Regardless, there’s plenty reason to exercise caution and the film earns its R-rating as soon as the opening credits close.