“Hostage”, starring Bruce Willis, opens with 3-D graphics depicting various aspects of hostage negotiations in Los Angeles. It appears to be a sort of ‘best of’ depiction and they don’t appear to be related. As the credits come to a close, these images bleed into the beginning of the film. The credits sequence resembles an animatronic; a rough draft of a sequence of animated film or television used to give the animators a chance to make changes before the project is completed. This sequence has an interesting look, vaguely reminiscent of the opening credits of “Spiderman”, but once the film starts, they seem completely out of place.
Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis), a former LAPD hostage negotiator, takes a job as Chief of Police for a small town in Ventura County. He is basically running from the demons of his previous life after failing to stop a hostage situation. He likes the peaceful quality of his new job, but has problems with his wife and daughter. They aren’t so happy and there are clearly issues to work out. Arriving at work, one of his officers reports a suspicious truck parked in front of a fancy, gated home. She is soon shot and Talley rushes to the location. He learns that three teenagers have taken the Smith family hostage after a botched carjacking. Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak) is an accountant for the mob and he was scheduled to deliver some account information. They aren’t happy about the delay and try to take matters into their own hands.
Directed by Florent Siri (someone I am not familiar with) and based on a novel by Robert Crais, “Hostage” starts as a very taut thriller. From the opening prologue, through about thirty minutes of the story, everything is portrayed in a gritty sort of mid-70s “Dirty Harry” type of look. This works, as mentioned, for about 30 or 45 minutes. At that point, the subplots start to kick in.
Robert Crais is a fairly well-known writer and I have read a few of his books. He is the type of writer who writes books that read like they are films; a chapter about the main character ends just before the climax of an action and the next chapter picks up the actions of the villain(s) two chapters before. He is writing a movie. Unfortunately, this type of writing is becoming more and more common. Another mark of this type of writing is that a new subplot or twist will be revealed every other chapter. In the hands of a good writer, it seems more natural. If the writer is mediocre, it seems uneven. Crais falls somewhere between.
“Hostage” is uneven. The scenes with Willis and Pollak, and their respective families, are interesting, well-written and appear realistic. A couple of Pollak’s exchanges with his kids were probably borrowed from real life by the screenwriter. As soon as the sociopathic teenagers and the mob become involved, the story and the film spirals out of control, flip-flopping blindly between realism and over-the-top cartoonish acting.
Really, the key problem is the teenagers. Despite a sentence or two of dialogue, we never really learn why they are acting as they are. Each is very over-the-top; they are always screaming, crying, sweating or staring resolutely into space or through another character. These roles would be difficult to pull off by very experienced actors. In the hands of these actors, the characters are downright laughable. One is shooting at people at random one moment and trying to be kind and caring to Smith’s daughter the next.
Also, typical of a film like this, the climax is overblown and completely unbelievable. Fire, commandos, teenagers with multiple Molotov cocktails and more all make an appearance in the last few moments of the film.
The first half of the film would make a really good television movie. Unfortunately, they expect you to pay to see it and sit through the entire thing.