I'd heard that test audiences laughed at the movie's "dramatic" sequences, which had me excited to see it. But sadly, Proof of Life didn't turn out to be humorously bad, but, rather, annoyingly bad. In fact, it had the kind of badness I hate most in films: In lieu of drama, it just has people yelling at each other for no reason.
The pointless yelling starts when married couple Alicia and Peter Bowman, lacking any basis for dramatic interchange, decide to start shouting. Peter (David Morse, one of the most talented actors of his generation who is, sadly, not pretty enough to get decent roles) is working as an engineer on a dam project in an unnamed Latin American country (which is so obviously Ecuador that there might as well be signs up saying "Welcome to Ecuador" in every scene). Alicia (Meg Ryan, who is mostly known for having the world's cutest nose), meanwhile, is working on being cute. So she has to shout things like "I don't have a project! ... I am not an agenda! ... I am not getting pregnant in the Third World again!"
This is supposed to be, I don't know, powerful? It sounds like it was written by young Muffy Anderson on the first day of Dramatic Writing 101.
Anyway, as Alicia's and Peter's different agendas come to a head (and don't forget, Alicia isn't one of those agendas!), Peter goes off and gets himself kidnapped by the Evil Latin American Rebels Front (ELARF), a terrorist group composed of brown people who gave up their Marxist ideals to sell drugs, which signals one of the key themes of Proof of Life: Watch out for brown people!
When Alicia hears that Peter has been kidnapped, Meg Ryan starts Acting. You know, Acting with a capital "A." Well, with an "A" set in 48 point, italic, underlined, boldface type. Such Acting apparently involves stuttering and repeating lines: "He ... he's been kidnapped? He's been kidnapped? He's been kidnapped?" Uhh, let me check ... yep, he's been kidnapped.
Next, Peter's evil sister Janis (Pamela Reed) flies in from Denver, and she and Alicia start yelling at each other. Then, an expert in K&R (kidnap and ransom, as we're reminded every five minutes when the term "K&R" is trotted out for its authentic sound) shows up. He is the dangerously handsome Russell Crowe, and his appearance makes Alicia and Janis start yelling at him, for no apparent reason. It's just baffling: He shows up to help, he's polite about it, and immediately people are yelling at him. It's like some Bizarro-World scriptwriter was thinking, "Hmm, this man am helping-type hero-man! Me have people he helps yell at him for gratitude!"
When the yelling in the city calms down, we cut to the jungle, where the terrorists are yelling at each other. I have no idea why, since they're supposed to be on the same team, but at this point I was starting to get used to the idea that people who are in love, in need of each other, or are comrades should just express themselves by yelling.
Next, Crowe learns that he can't help out with the K&R (kidnap and ransom, remember?) because there's no K&R (kidnap and ransom) insurance available, so he'll have to go back to England, where he lives. The company Peter works for then brings a brown guy to help out, only it turns out that the brown guy is just trying to rip Alicia off. Remember: Don't trust the brown people!
So, of course, Crowe mysteriously flies back to South America and takes over the case again, for no pay. This part is really baffling, as Crowe spends the next 124 days (there are constant subtitles telling us how many days it's been since Peter's kidnapping) negotiating the ransom. How he got time off from his job, and why he'd want to hang around pseudo-Ecuador for four months, is never explained. I mean, sure, Meg Ryan is cute, but hardly worth a transatlantic plane ticket and four months of getting yelled at.
So, anyway, Crowe brings in another K&R (kidnap and ransom) expert to help him out. He's smart enough to avoid the local brown K&R (kidnap and ransom) experts, so he brings in a red-haired guy (David Caruso), figuring that that's about as far as you can get from a brown guy. Of course, Crowe and the red-haired guy then start yelling at each other, so I guess we're to assume that they're friends.
Finally, things kick into gear when the red-haired guy and Crowe come up with a plan to go commando and rescue Peter. The rescue sequence is one of those carefully plotted cinema capers that are tense, tight and fun to watch. If you're in a multiplex watching 102 Freaking Dalmatians or The Single Mom, The Facially Disfigured Guy and The Tragically Cute Kid and it gets out 10 minutes before the end of Proof of Life you might want to sneak in for this part.
Finally, after the cool commando caper, the credits roll, and they are gorgeous. They're run over a series of aerial shots of the Ecuadoran rainforests and mountains, and they're almost worth the price of admission. Well, they would be if the price of admission didn't include watching the first two hours of this film.