218 – Hostage

A burned-out hostage negotiator, who on his last assignment saw a child and his mother die at the hands of their captor, resigns and becomes sheriff of an upscale suburb in California. Where, of course, the tranquility is disturbed by (wait for it) … a hostage situation.

Bruce Willis is the negotiator, and that’s about all you need to know about this sorry film, which manages to toss hardly any curveballs the viewer’s way. You can easily imagine Willis’ Jeff Talley muttering under his breath, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” Can the state cops handle the case? Naw, it has to be Talley and his crack band of Keystone Kops.

Young ne’er-do-wells Mars, Dennis, and Kevin have followed the Smith family home to their seemingly impenetrable fortress. They plan to steal the family’s SUV for a joyride, but then Things Happen, and patriarch Walter (Kevin Pollak) is smacked around. Tensions rise, and Talley hands control over to the staties. Oh, but then he’s pulled back in, owing to a story contrivance meant to advance the plot and keep Bruce Willis onscreen at all times.

And that’s a pretty good idea, all things considered. The kids in the movie are below atrocious; it’s really as if there was a general casting call for child actors who’d never acted before – and then the worst of that lot was selected. When we’re supposed to feel pathos for the captive son and daughter of Walter Smith, we instead feel scorn. Heck, let them get killed, if it’ll end the movie that much more quickly.

The direction is particularly ham handed, with zero finesse applied. Points are hammered home with the subtlety of a Gallagher performance. Everything’s in black and white, from the characters to the decisions each makes. Come to think of it, the movie might have been improved had it been shot in black and white.

Willis is the saving grace, the only reason this mess didn’t rate any lower than it did. He’s playing a retired John McClane, for the most part. In fact, they really should have just changed his character’s name and former vocation and titled this Die Hard with a Pension Plan.

Hostage: *1/2

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