We gave it a B
Some years ago at the Cannes film festival, I watched Bruce Willis toss Planet Hollywood T-shirts to a crowd and bad-mouth France. Turns out he was backing the wrong horse. In Hostage, an interesting French action pic fights gallantly for dominance over a bulging, American-style shoot-’em-up. And while the Hollywood machinery eventually overpowers the sensibility of French-born director Florent Siri (The Nest) in his first English-language production, the film’s vaguely haunted, melancholic European sense of displacement does our Bruno good.
My new theory is that Willis’ own aesthetic soul is more old-world than he knows, and that he works best with directors who either are (Luc Besson) or might as well be (M. Night Shyamalan) European. In Hostage, Willis plays Jeff Talley, a former LAPD negotiator whose desire for work in a sleepier county is blown by a trio of teens who break into a fancy house on the way to stealing a fancy car. From a case of Escalade envy, the doo-doo gets exponentially deeper: The owner (Kevin Pollak), who lives with his teenage daughter (Michelle Horn) and younger son (Jimmy Bennett), is a corrupt accountant who cooks the books for bad guys so shadowy, we never know what their exact brand of evil is.
And so while the three high-strung intruders, with their individual cases of dangerous psychological instability, hold the family hostage, Talley’s grimace is tightened a notch when he hears from the shadowy bad guys themselves: They’re holding his own family at gunpoint until Talley retrieves a certain CD containing bank-account information more valuable to them than the life of the schlub who manages their portfolio. That Talley finds a way to do all of this believably enough, playing all sides against a constantly shifting middle, is the secret of Willis’ longevity even after interest in Planet Hollywood has waned. (A different segment of the audience may be interested to see Six Feet Under‘s Ben Foster as the creepiest of the intruders, and the star’s own kid, Rumer Willis, as Talley’s daughter.)
The movie, with its climax of boggling, bloody too-muchness, is adapted from Robert Crais’ page-turner by Doug Richardson (Die Hard 2) with a businesslike sense of Willis’ strengths. The cinematic tone, though, as well as the creation of an alluring, menacing, wealthy, and amoral California, is all Siri’s. While the Hitchcock-loving cineast admires L.A., the wised-up middle-aged American movie star ought to mutter, ”Vive la France.”