Meets Lowered Expectations

Given what time of year this is, 'Hostage' is comparatively decent

When he's not busy fondling women who are one-third his age, Bruce Willis occasionally goes out and makes a movie, just to pay the rent on the warehouse where he keeps his Viagra.

Thus Hostage, which comes in the middle of the long, dark night of the soul known as "that period between the Oscars and the summer blockbusters." It being that time of year, I decided to prepare for this film by lowering my expectations as far as they would go, and then bolting them to the floor so they didn't jump at the sight of something compelling. And you know what? It worked! Hostage is entirely good enough to sit through if you're incarcerated or bedridden or trying to get your mind off your impending death or something.

The opening credits, in fact, are legitimately good. Or at least good enough to pass for good after I'd lowered my expectations. They're an odd mix of nourish black-and-white graphics and 3-D computer simulations of a cityscape.

After this charming bit, there's an opening sequence of the sort one finds in Bond movies: It's a mini-movie in itself that is largely unrelated to the rest of the film except that it shows the main character doing his thing. Here, that character is Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis, plus a lot of fake hair), a hostage negotiator for the Los Angeles Police Department. He's trying to get some scumbag not to kill a woman and her little boy. This doesn't go as planned, and Officer Talley winds up with tears in his eyes and a bloody child in his arms.

Cut to one year later, and he's the chief of police in a small town in rural California, where the crime rate jumps wildly between zero and none. Of course, if the crime rate stayed that low, no plot would develop, so something happens. If you're guessing that what happens is a hostage situation, well, then I can only assume that you checked out the title of this movie!

But wait: It's not just a hostage situation, because in Hollywood, everything has a twist. So, instead, it's a double-secret hostage situation: While Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak) and his two children are held hostage in their own home by some attractive but morally deficient teenagers, Chief Jeff Talley's wife and children are being held hostage by other people who also want to get at Walter Smith, and need Chief Talley's assistance to do so.

The twist really does little for the plot, as the first hostage situation is pretty interesting on its own. The second one just strains the credibility of the story, but it does provide for a nice, violent ending, and if fundamentalist religion has taught us anything, it's that people love a nice, violent ending.

Nonetheless, what sets this movie apart from other suspense films and crime films is ... well, nothing. But it's not a bad movie for that reason. Its attempt to be original, by having the hostage negotiator's family taken hostage, is the kind of first-thought-that-pops-into-my-head thing that's typical of Hollywood screenwriting, but that doesn't make it bad. It just makes it sort of stupid.

On the plus side, there's Bruce Willis, who has an avuncular quality that makes him one of the most likeable white bald guys around. I can't say he's really good in this, because he has to show a wide range of emotions, and he's best when he can just look smug or sympathetic, but he's not awful, and that's a lot to ask at this time of year.

Then there's Kevin Pollak. He's actually a good actor and is fun to watch because, he doesn't settle for simple naturalism, but rather creates odd characters who nonetheless make sense in their parts. Here, he plays a loving father of two who's also a criminal accountant. Yes: He combines the evil of crime with the inherent dullness of accounting. Which means he changes boredom into ... boredoom!

The beautiful teens of crime who take Pollak and his family hostage aren't really good actors, but they're incredibly photogenic. Ben Foster, who plays the evilest of the evil teens, is particularly delicious doing a campy parody of Bad Ronald-style anomie.

There's also a pulchritudinous treat in the form of Michelle Horn, who gets taken hostage before she has time to follow her father's orders and change out of her slutty, tight T-shirt. Oh no! That means she'll have to spend the whole movie popping out of it while bound to a chair! Whatever shall we do?!

Well, I guess we'll sit and watch her struggle, but probably not until Hostage makes its cable debut. It's just about right for that Sunday evening when you have the flu and all your favorite shows are in reruns. With a bottle of NyQuil in you, Hostage might make the jump from "decent" to "totally decent."

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