From its stylized, graphic-novel-esque opening credits to its fiery, operatic finale and resolution, “Hostage” tries to be bigger and better than an average suspense thriller. It indulges in some clichÃ©s, but it avoids many others. And though it descends into outrageous symbolism, and though the musical score is shrieky and outlandish, I will say this for it: It had my attention for all 113 minutes.
Directed with flash, if not always finesse, by video game auteur Florent Emilio Siri, “Hostage” is a visceral, entertaining bit of pulp, full of violence and mayhem and high-stakes dramatic situations. It is something like an entire season of “24,” condensed into two over-the-top hours, and peppered with profanity.
It is also a return to form for Bruce Willis, back in the loose-cannon, butt-kicking “Die Hard” saddle after playing far too many stiff military characters (“Hart’s War,” “Tears of the Sun,” etc.). (It’s worth noting that the “Hostage” screenplay was adapted from Robert Crais’ novel by Doug Richardson, who wrote “Die Hard 2” and is set to write “Die Hard 4.”)
Willis plays Jeff Talley, a hostage negotiator who sees a crisis go wrong in the film’s prologue and who, a year later, is kicking back as chief of police in a small community in Southern California’s canyon country. Like most movie characters in this situation, he is haunted by what happened a year ago, has a rocky relationship with his wife (Serena Scott Thomas), and can’t communicate with his sullen teenage daughter (Rumer Willis, Bruce’s real-life offspring).
Talley is drawn back into the fine art of hostage negotiations when a trio of felonious teens take a wealthy family prisoner in their well-guarded home up in the hills. Their leader, ostensibly, is Dennis Kelly (Jonathan Tucker), with his younger brother Kevin (Marshall Allman) quavering and second-guessing his plans. But it is the quietly psychotic Mars Krupcheck (Ben Foster), a recent acquaintance of the Kelly brothers’, who is truly running the show. It is because of Mars’ actions that what began as a simple instance of grand theft auto has turned into a full-blown hostage crisis, with homeowner Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak) knocked unconscious and his two children, teenage Jennifer (Michelle Horn) and younger Tommy (Jimmy Bennett), left to be used as bargaining chips.
In itself, this does not comprise a movie. This is an episode of “S.W.A.T.” or something, but it is not a feature film (though heaven knows a lot of movies have tried to be successful with nothing more than this). And so complications are added. Walter Smith, it turns out, is an accountant for some shady characters, and a trade of some kind was scheduled for tonight. The people responsible for it want it to happen no matter what, and to that end they find a position of leverage against Jeff Talley, getting him to work for them even as he simultaneously works within the law to get the hostages released.
Talley is grim and resourceful, two of Willis’ best qualities in this sort of role, and this is certainly Willis’ most enjoyable action-hero performance in several years. Jonathan Tucker and Marshall Allman, both relatively unknown, do well as the misguided Kelly brothers, their familial tensions adding to the fear they feel over how catastrophic the situation has become.
As for Ben Foster, well, I like the kid. He has always done odd, interesting work in films and on HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” but in “Hostage,” it seems his penchant for weirdness has finally overtaken him. Mars, the long-haired psycho he plays, is oily and creepy the way all movie psychos are, but Foster makes him just a little more strange, often in ways that are more funny than frightening.
And is there a moment when Mars seems to be a Christ figure, with a person who seems to be a Mary figure looking at him piteously as flames surround them both and the soundtrack swells to grand, emotional heights? Yes. Yes there is.
“Hostage” is an intense film, without question. Bombastic, audacious and slick, yes — but in this genre, those are often good attributes. I can certainly recommend it to people who enjoy this sort of film, and to anyone who feels Bruce Willis has been rather dull lately.
B (1 hr., 53 min.; )