An overstuffed plot can be at the root of a poor screenplay as evidenced in “Hostage.” Although problems extend beyond scripter Doug Richardson’s adaptation of the Robert Crais bestseller about a negotiator having to double-deal two hostage situations — one involving his own family — what sends this initially tense thriller over the precipice is a plot scheme that never knows when enough is enough. Fans will welcome Bruce Willis back as an action man, but this turn will not do any better biz than Willis’ equally misbegotten “Tears of the Sun,” with overseas and vid helping profit margins.
Early reels are filled with considerable promise, as they lay down a fairly standard blueprint of a cop suspenser but decorated with elaborate style and tension under the helming of Florent Siri, a French action specialist (“The Nest”) on his first studio assignment. A Gallic influence even holds sway over the stark, graphics-heavy opening title sequence (care of firm Specimen France), catapulted along by the exceptionally talented French composer Alexandre Desplat.
Prelude and what follows, though, are strictly all-American. Ace hostage negotiator Jeff Talley (Willis) is tragically confronted with his first failed rescue attempt near downtown Los Angeles. After this incident, Jeff and family move north to the sleepy Ventura County burg of Bristo Camino, where he assumes top cop mantle a year later.
“Hostage” is never strong in the character department, and a misbegotten backgrounder involving Jeff’s daughter (Willis’ real offspring, Rumer Willis) and wife (Serena Scott Thomas) is inserted only for the plot hook it provides later.
Carjackers Dennis (Jonathan Tucker) and Mars (Ben Foster) –with Dennis’ younger, innocent brother Kevin (Marshall Allman) along for the ride — tool around the town looking for victims, and spot the gleaming SUV driven by Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak). Inexplicably letting Walter drive back to his heavily secured fortress of a mansion perched in the middle of the coastal mountains, Dennis and Mars foolishly decide to try the boost after breaking into the home.
Tucker’s proclivity for young men in over their head works well for him as his Dennis seems to want to prove his manhood to new pal Mars, who Foster instantly signals is a hellish psychopath. This leads to trouble with Walter knocked out cold and Walter’s sullen teen daughter Jennifer (Michelle Horn) and young boy Tommy (Jimmy Bennett) held at gunpoint. Mars’ point-blank killing of a visiting cop pulls Jeff back into his old mode as hostage manager.
Tension can be cut with a knife in these sections, but as the story further ramps up the complications, poor plot mechanics run pic off the road.
Just as Jeff appears to have passed the law enforcement reins over to county cops, another set of hooded bad guys enters the picture, threatening to kill Jeff’s kin if he doesn’t extract a certain DVD from Walter’s home office. Resembling a poor copy of Jack Bauer, the rule-breaking hero of “24,” Jeff does what he must to obey the demands, but the effect on the movie is to prolong the inevitable rather than tighten the suspense.
“Hostage” plays like a missed opportunity for everyone involved, including Willis, who knows this kind of material inside out yet can’t rescue the project by himself. Foster’s tendency to overact is greenlit to an unfortunate degree, while Pollak comes off the best.
Siri appears to have a future as a Hollywood action director with the right script. Production package is fabulous, with production designer Larry Fulton showing off an extraordinary sense of physical space with Walter’s to-die-for home, and Desplat tempting excess in his latest expansive and adventurous score.