Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis) has taken a job as captain of a suburban California police squad to escape the hellish world he experienced as an L.A. hostage negotiator. When a trio of juvenile delinquents (Ben Foster, Jonathan Tucker, and Marshall Allman) invade the home of a wealthy crook's (Kevin Pollak) intricate estate, things go immediately awry, bringing Jeff in to talk the kids down from potential violence against the family (Jimmy Bennett, Michelle Horn). Yet, before Jeff can successfully walk away from the situation, an organized crime syndicate, using Jeff's family as collateral, forces the cop back into the fold to retrieve some important items found in the house.
"Hostage" (IMDb listing) starts off with a bang after some stylish but familiar opening credits (I'm looking your way "Panic Room"). Opening on a bushy-bearded Bruce Willis smack dab in the middle of a tense L.A. hostage situation, the film sets off on the right foot of suspense, catastrophe, and thriller theatrics. The picture appears to understand its straightforward charms, utilizing highly charged anxiety for a rock 'em, sock 'em launch that promises so much. Eventually, "Hostage" splits into three movies.
The first incarnation of "Hostage" is the film that French director Florent Siri is making. Siri, who made a splash with his action extravaganza "The Nest" three years ago, appears to be under the impression that he is making a horror film with "Hostage." Electing to use dark angles, shock jumps, and a finale right out of a "Friday the 13th" movie, Siri isn't on the same page as the material. This mixture of genres actually works in the film's favor for the first two acts, and elevates the material away from its sticky, hackneyed roots. However, this all falls apart in the finale, which spins completely out of Siri's tight control, and ends up a burning, broken-glass, nine-endings, slo-mo mess, damaging the unique thriller ambiance Siri stumbled upon before. The scripting is interesting (including a clever reference to Hollywood's remake-frenzy attitude), and outside of some bad filmmaking choices (an early body-mounted camera reveals Siri really is French), Siri's unaware direction keeps the film cooking at a high heat.
For Bruce Willis, "Hostage" returns the actor to the genre of his best work. Jeff Talley is a character not unlike "Die Hard" hero John McClane; a role that digs deep into psychological readings as well as guns o' plenty. Willis is great here as the tortured cop, but his performance is more in the reluctant hero vein, while Siri, as mentioned before, is making a completely different movie. Willis' performance simmers down to standard run-n-shoot style theatrics, but his insistence that "Hostage" isn't a Wes Craven movie keeps the emotional suspense engaging. The same cannot be said of the criminal performances in the picture, with Brando wannabes Ben Foster and Jonathan Tucker performing like it was their first day at acting school. Spittle-drenched and gorged with brood, Foster and Tucker add an unexpected comedic element to the film with their wildly over-the-top performances, which immediately strips them of threat, and punishes an unsuspecting audience that is forced to sit in their seats for 110 minutes watching these boys try to out-act each other with silly tics and drool.
The third and final version of "Hostage" is created through composer Alexandre Desplat's thunderous score; except Desplat seems to be under the impression that he's scoring a James Bond action film. The frantic music in "Hostage" goes above and beyond the call of duty, assisting Siri in his quest to create a mixture of different manners and moods in the picture. It's solid work, but at times I expected Sean Connery to drive up in an Aston Martin.
The last 30 minutes of "Hostage" are a terribly busy bore, and the finale does an excellent job of creating a bad taste to a film that is actually a decent genre exercise. If one could mentally match up the three movies being made here, that would certainly help "Hostage's" chances for entertainment.
Filmfodder Grade: C+