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Die Hard? Hardly.

With Hostage instead, director Florent Emilio Siri delivers a troubled attempt to return to Bruce Willis’ heyday as an action hero. Hostage fails to provide the type of setup worthy of comparison to a film like Die Hard, but what it does right works.

Upon introduction, hostage negotiator Jeff Talley (Willis) is in the middle of a family crisis. The crisis does not involve his wife or daughter, but rather the lives of three others barricaded within a Los Angeles home due to a domestic dispute gone terribly wrong. Talley’s initial presentation sparks intrigue. His job is tense, communicating via secured phone line with an irate husband on the verge of killing his family before turning the gun on himself, and he spends his time laying on the floor of a neighboring rooftop communicating status updates with fellow SWAT team members via dry erase boards. When a sniper indicates that he has a shot, Talley calls him off with confidence.

In this opening sequence, we know that things will soon go terribly wrong. Willis plays Talley as a terse and edgy individual. His beard is two months past a five o’clock shadow, and its patches of grey give touches that bring Talley to life with little needed exposition. Talley’s work must be psychologically taxing. Hostage’s lives are equated to survival percentages at rapidly declining rates. When negotiations crumble between Talley’s fingers, we feel his pain, and it’s at this point that Hostage has us vested.

This failure and the subsequent regret pushes Talley to quit his position with the SWAT team and become chief of Bristo Camino Police Department in the suburban confines of Ventura County. This move does not fair well with his daughter, Amanda (Rumer Willis), and the tension is tearing Jeff and his wife Jane (Serena Scott Thomas) further and further apart. The upshot is that Bristo Camino is not synonymous with crime, thus lowering the danger factor. To help signify this change in character, Siri has Willis shave his head, trading the scruffy action hero look from the opening for the more recent, psychological Willis character.

The Laws of Action Heroes require that wherever they may roam, try as they might, conflict is never finished with those who fight for good. Trouble finds them, no matter where they might hide, and this is precisely what happens to Jeff Talley. What Hostage does well enough is set up our conflict. Initially Talley is sucked back into a hostage crisis when a burglary by two-bit petty thugs Dennis Kelly (Jonathan Tucker) and Mars Krupcheck (Ben Foster) decide to pull off a home invasion on the Smith family.

Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak) is a successful single parent accountant with a spread that would make most celebrities jealous. To say that daughter and son, Jennifer (Michelle Horn) and Tommy (Jimmy Bennett), live comfortably in Walter’s estate is an understatement. Posh doesn’t begin to describe it. In fact, it is their upscale lifestyle that initially attracts Dennis and Mars to begin with. The fact that Dennis’ innocent brother Kevin tags along doesn’t help things.

The initial engagement with Dennis and Mars is played perfectly. Sure, one would think that police vehicles would be equipped with bullet proof glass, but its forgivable considering the staging of a rescue when one of Talley’s officers is gunned down when responding to the Smith’s silent alarm. Talley jumps at the first chance he gets to hand over jurisdiction to the County Sheriff, which couldn’t have been handled better. We understand precisely why Jeff took this low-key job without him waxing poetic about it in the process.

Small time crooks cannot be the true reasoning behind a film with such as this, so naturally something larger must be going on, behind the scenes. This comes in the form of shady business partners of Walter’s, who are eagerly awaiting valuable information that Walter has promised to deliver moments before Dennis and Mars overpower the household. Walter’s mysterious partners decide that they want Jeff calling the shots in negotiating with Dennis and Mars in order to retrieve their information, which is conveniently burned on a DVD disguised as a copy of Heaven Can Wait. To inspire Jeff into taking part in this plot, the mysterious businessmen hold Jane and Amanda hostage, promising only to release them when the DVD is returned to them.

Admittedly, a great deal of this film works as an action film because tensions run high and this keeps us intrigued. Honestly. Some aspects fail miserably due to poor attention to detail. One sequence in which Jeff enlists the help of Tommy, who is communicating with him via cell phone from within the crawlspaces of the house, is impossible to take seriously because of an unfortunately titled video game reference, Wubbazorg. Yes, I’m aware that there is no such game.

Logic also takes a backseat at times. Tommy’s crawlspaces are so spacious that they put my own apartment to shame. The film survives because it successfully navigates its way around most contrivances while managing to close with an open ending. At first glance this seems intended for the inevitable Hostages, yet upon further reflection the fate of both the Smith and Talley families can only be mired in doom and gloom shortly after the credits roll.


Mario Anima

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