Hostage situations are always fraught with drama, though the prospect of teasing one out over eight hours sounds like an almost real-time ordeal. Still, the two-hour premiere of “The Kill Point” exhibits considerable promise — a taut if invariably familiar standoff, with John Leguizamo clearly savoring his big “Attica!” moments and Donnie Wahlberg as the steely negotiator trying to talk him down. All told, it’s a savvy injection of testosterone for Spike, and clearly the most ambitious programming venture from the male-pitched cabler.
Series creator James DeMonaco co-wrote “The Negotiator” nearly a decade ago, which perhaps explains his affinity for this particular turf. Owing an obvious debt to “Dog Day Afternoon,” the story focuses on a bank robbery gone wrong, leaving a quintet of military vets — under the stewardship of Mr. Wolf (Leguizamo) — desperately trying to find a means of escape. “This thing either ends up with us free or dead,” Wolf announces at the outset, establishing a sense of the dangers to come.
Kicking off with a big, chaotic shootout, “Kill Point” quickly settles into a more claustrophobic vein as the hold-up men retreat into the bank, slowly developing aspects of the robbers, the cops and the hostages. Adding to the intrigue, among those being held is a pretty heiress (Christina Evangelista) whose rich father (Tobin Bell) makes clear that not all lives are created equal in his willingness to intervene on her behalf.
Admittedly, there’s not much fresh in the debut, and one wishes Leguizamo’s character had a less cliched backstory than that of a disgruntled Iraq war veteran (after years of Vietnam vets fulfilling a similar role) lashing out against the system.
That said, the performances are generally sharp (the broad cast notably includes two alums of “The Wire,” JD Williams and Michael K. Williams), and Leguizamo’s exchanges with Wahlberg — cast in yet another steely cop role — have a rugged edge. In those scenes and others, director Steve Shill captures the tension of this cat-and-mouse game, as well as how such life-or-death scenarios elicit both the best and worst in people, from noble sacrifice to craven pleas for self-preservation.
Spike will intro the series with limited interruption, the better to plant the hook for its episodic run, which will play out over six weeks concluding with a two-hour capper. Whether “Kill Point” can maintain its macho swagger over that span will be challenging, but for a channel that in its short life has usually exhibited more balls than brains, consider this a welcome reminder that the two aren’t always mutually exclusive.