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'Ransom': One for Your Money

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 08, 1996

Mel Gibson sported a skirt in his last outing, but he wears the pants in the family -- and how -- in "Ransom," a competent nail-biter that ably exploits a parent's worst nightmare. Although the tale seems inspired by the era of milk carton kids, it's actually an update of a 1956 thriller about a dad who turns the tables on his son's kidnappers.

Gibson, who takes on the role originated by the earnest Glenn Ford, actually has more in common with socker moms like Geena Davis in "The Long Kiss Goodnight." While action heroines are often motivated by their maternal instincts, action heroes don't need such inducements to join Major Butt-Kicker's army.

"Ransom," however, directly links millionaire protagonist Tom Mullen's manhood to his ability to defend his family, composed of wife Kate (Rene Russo) and son Sean (Brawley Nolte, Nick's son). A self-made airline tycoon, Mullen is surrounded by influential friends and respected by the business community. Though he is being investigated for labor law violations, he is pleased with himself and the order of his world.

Then Sean is snatched and Mullen receives a video of the badly bruised 10-year-old blindfolded and chained to a bed. Dad is not only distraught by his son's abduction, he also feels powerless, even impotent, when he allows the FBI to take charge of the situation.

When the agency bungles a rescue attempt, he immediately takes matters into his own hands. A shrewd businessman who trusts and follows his own instincts, Mullen becomes convinced that his son will die if he pays the $2 million ransom. So he announces that he's decided to offer the money as a bounty on the kidnappers' heads.

As the FBI and his wife point out, Mullen is gambling with his boy's life. Worse yet, he's turned the situation into a macho showdown with the unstable scum who abducted and continue to abuse his child. Luckily, the kidnappers are thrown off guard, albeit temporarily, by this move -- one of several unusual twists.

Directed by Ron Howard from a much-doctored screenplay by Richard Price and Alexander Ignon, the film settles into a comfortable clip after a sluggish start, but it never develops the urgency of such top-notch kidnap dramas as Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much." Though the film gleams with Howard's customary spit polish, there's no denying that the story is pitted with plot holes.

It also brushes off relationships between major characters. For instance, Mullen's relationship with his wife is so negligible, especially given the circumstances, that it's as if Sean were the result of a trip to the ovum bank.

While sinister Gary Sinise brings a skewed moral code as well as menace to the role of the renegade cop who masterminds the kidnapping, it's clear that money is not the only issue. He apparently expects to achieve something else by this unconscionable crime. In the end, only the hero finds resolution, but you can't help noticing that the damage done to the most innocent victim is never addressed.

Ransom is rated R for violence, profanity and child abuse.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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