Bruce Willis has an underrated emotional side. He’s at his best in films like Pulp Fiction and Die Hard, where he’s given the opportunity to be a meditative man of action – a hero deeper and more reflective of his actions than the everyday Stallone or Schwarzenegger. So it’s disappointing that Hostage isn’t better, because initially it offers a lot of the same prospects.
As the movie opens, LAPD hostage negotiator Jeff Talley (Willis) is decked out in a face-covering beard and in the middle of talking down a homicidal man from killing his cheating wife and their only son. But after Talley passes on a sniper’s shot to take him out – claiming “No one dies today!” – the situation falls apart and the entire family is killed.
Hostage has an annoying habit of always deteriorating its “thrilling” situations into over-the-top bloodbaths. And Talley’s “every life is sacred” morals get disposed of quicker than his facial hair; by the next sequence Willis is back to his patented chrome dome and hiding out as the Bristo Camino police chief.
Taking a lower-profile job has helped Talley avoid the limelight and bury ghosts from the past that still haunt him (at least I think they do, every time Willis gets the least bit reflective, director Florent Emilio Siri fades the image to a blindingly white screen and negates any emotion in the scene).
Of course it isn’t long before our fallen hero is forced to face his demons in another hostage situation. Except it’s not enough for this film to have one set of hostages; this one has to have two. In order to give Talley the motivation to spring back to action, the screenwriters have terribly overwritten the script (which could easily just be a transfer of an overwritten novel by Robert Crais). Not only are we bombarded by two separate sets of hostages (one involving Talley’s own family), but Talley is also forced to rescue a family led by a corrupt numbers runner for the mob (Kevin Pollak).
Pollak whose currently best known for hosting Bravo’s Celebrity Poker, was once an interesting bit actor in early 90s films like The Usual Suspects and Grumpy Old Men but is entirely wasted in Hostage. In fact, Pollak is knocked out early in the film by the teenage thugs holding his family captive and spends 90 percent of the movie unconscious.
All things considered, Hostage is a snow cone of a movie. There’s some flavor there, although after too long it just melts away. Bruce Willis starts with his scraggly beard and thoughtful demeanor but it all just slips away when things get gory.
Siri has spent the last couple years directing Xbox’s Splinter Cell, and it shows. The opening credit sequence is nothing more than a glorified freeze frame shot from the video game. While interesting, Siri never shows the capabilities of handling emotional scenes with real actors and spends far too many shots using a sweeping camera pan.
In the end, Hostage marks another low point for Willis in a career that’s been rockier than anyone’s this side of John Travolta. But every few years Willis seems to pop up in one truly great film, and while The Sixth Sense is starting to feel six years old, at least Sin City looks fantastic.
Brian Mulligan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.