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'Hostage': Let's Make a Dull

In Bruce Willis's Action Thriller, Nothing Personal, Just Business

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page C05

"Hostage," a new action thriller starring Bruce Willis in the same role he's been playing for nearly 20 years, features a plot twist involving a police negotiator who himself becomes a hostage in the course of a tense standoff. But by the time Willis's character saves this considerably long day, it's filmgoers who will no doubt feel like prisoners, as a movie that promises to be a taut nail-biter devolves into the kind of silly, overblown climax parodied so beautifully by Robert Altman in "The Player."

It's hard to remember that Willis started out as such a likable rogue, cracking wise and winking to the camera. But his smirk has turned into a tiresome grimace, and he radiates self-seriousness from the tip of his shaved head to the toes of his hardened shell of a body. The truth is, he's just no fun anymore.


Bruce Willis teams with his daughter, Rumer, as people trying to escape big-city trouble in Florent Siri's "Hostage." (Photos Miramax Films)

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For a minute there in "Hostage," you think the old scamp might be back. As Jeff Talley, an LAPD hostage negotiator, Willis sports long hair and a beard that he distractedly combs during particularly tense moments. The movie opens with Talley huddled on a rooftop, desperately trying to calm down a man threatening his wife and son with a gun. But Talley's timing is off and he loses the gunman and his two victims. Traumatized, he moves to a small-town department where viewers catch up with him one year later, minus the hair, trying to keep every day crime-free and patch together a strained family (that's Willis's real-life daughter Rumer, bearing an uncanny resemblance to both her parents, playing his on-screen child).

That fantasy, of course, comes to an abrupt halt and Talley is pulled back into his old profession when a ludicrously wealthy businessman (Kevin Pollak) runs afoul of three thrill-seeking punks. Eventually, double crosses turn into triple crosses turn into quadruple crosses, which might have made "Hostage" pretty interesting had the filmmakers focused on the story's twisty psychological cross-currents. Instead screenwriter Doug Richardson and director Florent Siri turn the movie into a generic, deeply ridiculous shoot-'em-up, made all the more laughable by a villain (Ben Foster) who increasingly resembles Marilyn Manson as he turns into a homicidal zombie.

Siri, who seems never to have met a slow-motion shot, piece of backlighting or fireball he doesn't like, is a former video game director and it shows. "Hostage" has the soulless, cynical feel of a movie interested only in putting its characters through their paces to get the check at the other side. "Hostage" might prove to be lucrative business for Willis but, it bears repeating, that doesn't mean it's much fun for the rest of us.

Hostage (102 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for strong graphic violence, profanity and some drug use.


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