HOSTAGE - DVD review

Willis manages to be the best thing in the picture, and largely because of him I was willing to overlook the plot's ridiculous loopholes and exaggerations.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

When Bruce Willis reinvigorated the action/adventure genre with "Die Hard" in 1988, he did so with a cast of well-established good guys and bad guys, a ton of thrills, and his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. Ever since then, Willis has been a capable action hero, so we had every right to expect good things from him in 2005's "Hostage."

What we get in "Hostage" is an absolutely improbable, incredibly impossible, totally absurd action thriller with no pretense whatsoever of irony or humor. Yet, like a similarly unlikely action flick of the year before, "Man on Fire" with Denzel Washington, it's the sheer force of the star's presence that carries the day. Commanding performances by Washington in the one case and Willis in the other make both films watchable and fun, though not particularly memorable. Look out where you aim that gun, pardner, but shoot me if you must; I liked the movie.

As usual, Willis plays a cop. This time he's Jeff Talley, a former S.W.A.T. team specialist and hostage negotiator who has given up both trades for a nice, peaceful job as Chief of Police of a nice, peaceful Southern California town called Bristo Camino. But trouble follows Talley everywhere. What else? We know he's really Bruce Willis.

While the opening sequence is gripping, it's much like the problem in "Man on Fire" in that it involves putting a child in danger. But "Hostage" does "Man on Fire" quadruple; it eventually puts four children (OK, some are teens) in danger. I wish it hadn't; I don't like the gimmick; it's cheap; it's an easy way to gain our sympathy. But there you have it. Accept it and you enjoy the film a lot more.

We're introduced early on to Talley's wife (Serena Scott Thomas) and teenage daughter (Rumer Willis, the real-life daughter of Willis and Demi Moore), just as soon as the three of them move to Bristo Camino. The mother and father argue, and the daughter hates the place and hates her parents for fighting.

Next, we're introduced to the first of the story's several main conflicts. Three young carjackers--Mars (Ben Foster), Kevin (Marshall Allman), and Dennis (Jonathan Tucker)--invade the home of a wealthy man, Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak), and his two kids, Tommy (Jimmy Bennett) and Jennifer (Michelle Horn), to steal their automobile. But Mars, a psycho killer, goes nuts, and when a policewoman shows up, he kills her. There's no escape for the Chief. Talley has to come to the rescue and surround the place, while inside the three carjacker/murderers are holed up with the Smith family.

But that's just the beginning. The house is enormous and fully armored. It's got security shields that completely close down the place, making it into a fortress. Why? We don't know. Then, the carjackers find that there are television cameras in every room and even more cameras outside. Again, why? Further, they find bags of money lying around; literally, bags of hundred-dollar bills. Yet again, a big why? What's more, we find the whole house is honeycombed with secret passageways and ventilator shafts big enough for people to crawl through. Say, just who are these Smiths, anyway?

Talley tries to turn the situation over to the county authorities and just walk away, but as soon as he does so, more complications arise. Things just keeping piling up and piling on for the guy. Mysterious masked men show up, holding Talley's wife and daughter prisoner. So we get two sets of bad guys, each holding people hostage. But why? More to the point, why did the filmmakers feel the need to complicate the plot so much with one set of bad guys surrounding another set of bad guys?

The opening credits are done up in a dark comic-book style that seemed to belie what I expected to be a grittily realistic police yarn. It's only when the movie is over that one realizes this isn't a grittily realistic police yarn. Not even close. It's a pulp fiction, an outrageous whopper that keeps getting more involved, more intricate, and less believable as it goes along. Yet, as I've said, Willis firmly plants himself in the role, director Florent Siri keeps the pace jumping, and the noir tone never lets up for an instant.

Well, yeah, maybe I could have done without Talley's family problems, but they, too, figure into the fabric of the tale before it's over. And maybe the story is not what you're looking for; and maybe it could have lightened up a bit. And maybe it does stretch to the breaking point one's ability to suspend disbelief. But it delivers the requisite excitement for an action/adventure from beginning to end. And whether these things are done seriously or tongue in cheek, isn't that what action movies are supposed to be about?

Buena Vista has recently seen the same light as Warner Bros., transferring their movies to disc at a reasonably high bit rate for maximum picture quality. I'd say the only minor deficiencies in the video are those related to the original print. The screen size measures a wide anamorphic ratio of 2.35:1, its theatrical-release dimensions. The colors are good, although slightly glassy in appearance. Darker areas of the screen are a tad murky and object delineation is only average, but grain is at a minimum.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 sonics do their job with a vengeance. A helicopter flies over and around the screen in the first minutes of the movie, so you know the director wanted to show off the soundtrack's audio capabilities. Then there are more helicopters, and more, again and again. They're everywhere-- in the front speakers, in the back speakers, along the sides of the room, and over our head. I think you get the idea: It's impressive sound, even when it's overdone. Strong dynamic contrasts, a wide stereo spread, realistic musical ambiance, and decent bass complete the audio package.

The extras are plentiful enough; they just aren't very exciting. Director Florent Siri does what he can with the audio commentary, but he's a fairly soft-spoken gentleman, and I couldn't find it interesting enough to listen for longer than a few minutes. Perhaps the reader will have better luck. Then, there's a twelve-minute featurette, "Taking Hostage Behind the Scenes," which is mostly promotional, with the cast and crew doing their best to sell us on the film. Pretty typical. Better are six deleted and two extended scenes, all in widescreen with optional director's commentary. Beyond that, there are eighteen scene selections, with a chapter insert; Sneak Peeks at six other Buena Vista films; English and French spoken languages; and Spanish subtitles, with English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Thoughts:
Willis is intensely earnest the whole way in "Hostage," even when his character's life seems like hell. Seriously, this poor Chief of Police he plays should get out of the law enforcement business altogether because grief seems to follow him everywhere. Still, Willis manages to be the best thing in the picture, and largely because of him I was willing to overlook the plot's ridiculous loopholes and exaggerations. It's an action movie, and you get action. Besides, as unlikely as it seems, the plot hinges on obtaining a single DVD, and I love DVDs. How can I complain?


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