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'Hostage': It's Hard to Take It

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page WE35

You don't so much watch "Hostage" as feel it with your sphincter, which is not an entirely unflattering thing to say about a film of this sort (that is to say, intense and brutal). For much of its duration -- during which hotshot-L.A.-hostage-negotiator-turned-small-town-cop Bruce Willis tries to free a family held prisoner in their own home by a trio of teenage punks -- the impact is so purely visceral it's hard not to clench and unclench your gluteus maximus and surrounding musculature every time someone gets shot, pistol whipped, thrown over a balcony, threatened sexually or burned alive. After an hour and a half of this yogic exercise, however, the body, not to mention the mind (well, my mind anyway), starts craving some sort of release. Short of the hail of bullets and molotov cocktails that come at the film's climax, that release never comes. Or at least it doesn't satisfy in the way a good thriller ought to.

See, "Hostage" is actually set up with a pretty interesting, and morally complex, premise. What makes the confrontation between Willis's Jeff Talley and the three punks so knotty is not the fact that Talley is running from a past disgrace (been there, done that), or that one of the punks (Ben Foster) is an unpredictable madman (yawn). It's that Talley's sense of duty has been compromised by the fact that his own wife and child (Serena Scott Thomas and Rumer Willis) have been kidnapped by a mystery man who also wants something out of that house, and it ain't the hostages. Will Talley jeopardize the safety of the first family to save his own? And if not, how will he fulfill both the demands of his job and his obligation to protect his kin? At times, Willis makes Talley's dilemma sweatily palpable, but the film's ultimate resolution, in which the impasse isn't so much thought out as blown to smithereens, gratifies only the seat of the pants, and not the head.

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HOSTAGE (R, 113 minutes) --Contains blood, bullets, brutality, considerable obscenity and some drug use. Area theaters.

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