There are two things that viewers of HOSTAGE, the latest film starring and co-starring Bruce Willis, can be grateful for. One, most of it takes place is a spectacular mansion that is visually stunning. Two, we dont have to see Mr. Willis naked again. Theres a tattoo on his person that he displayed in THE WHOLE TEN YARDS, also starring and co-produced by him, that I personally never need to see again.
Hes Jeff Talley, formerly the best hostage negotiator is Los Angeles. After a very bad day at work, hes left the big city behind to start over in Bristo Camino, a tiny hamlet somewhere in the near-wilds of California. We know that hes a changed man because hes not only shaved off the beard he sported in the opening sequence, hes also shaved the scraggly hair off his scalp. Unfortunately for Talley, a smart answer by a rich girl (Michelle Horn) to an inappropriate request from a working class boy (Jonathan Tucker) escalates into a hostage situation in the girls fortress-like home. Meanwhile, bad guys have kidnapped Talleys family in order to force him to retrieve something of theirs from the mansion before time runs out for them.
There are several warning signs early on that getting ones hopes up is setting oneself up for disappointment. The first is the appearance of Rumer Willis, the eldest product of Mr. Willis union with Demi Moore. I have no quarrel with Ms Willis talents as an actress. Shes not given that much to do and she does it no worse than any other aspiring thespian of her age. Its just that she appeared with her other parent in STRIPTEASE, and thats not a debacle whose mojo dissipates easily. Another is the way people are injured, seriously injured, and yet dont obey the basic laws of physiology. Even a cursory understanding of basic anatomy pretty much seals the deal as far as taking anything else on screen seriously. Then theres that fancy alarm system in the fortress-like home of the rich girl, the one that doesnt sound an alarm when people invade, no, it just passively shows them doing so on the closed-circuit monitors all over the house in the hopes that someone might notice and hit the silent alarm calling the cops.
Even the writer, Doug Richardson, who penned DIE HARD II for Mr. Willis, seems to acknowledge this, as his script drifts further and further from reason, going over the top and then some without looking back. By the time we have reached a preposterously operatic climax, there is nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy the architecture. Its a deft mix of the sort of bold linear statement of Frank Lloyd Wright and Asian influences that seem to spring right from the craggy peak on which its situated. Indoor waterfalls and subdued, indirect lighting create an otherworldy yet cozy effect.
Yet none of that would matter is there were any sense of suspense to the proceedings. For all the gunshots, gore, and Willis grimace, its bland. The situations are pat, the characters cliché. The shadowy figures pulling the strings are actually shadowy on screen. The characters dont liven things up, at least not in a good way. The Smith kids, are irksome, sister Jennifer (Michelle Horn) for being obnoxious even in the face of certain mayhem, and brother Tommy (Jimmy Bennett) for being so earnest that some watching may need an insulin injection to counteract the icky sugar sweetness of it all. Ben Foster as the requisite wacko comes off more as a stone than a psycho, and one that is fighting a losing battle with narcolepsy. Tucker shouts rather than acts, while Marshall Allman as his kid brother Kevin fades into the background even when hes shouting back. All three characters say and do stupid thing for the running time, which is much too long to begin with and is only made to seem longer with their non-antic.
That last has the whiff of vamping about it, and by that I dont mean something done with fangs, nor do I mean what Nita Naldi did to Rudolph Valentino in BLOOD AND SAND while wearing a low cut bodice and a come hither smile. No, Im talking that old vaudeville term that meant stretching the action indefinitely, in this case, in order to give Mr. Willis more time to grimace. The disturbing thing there is that someone thought we all wanted that.
Now, I have often ragged Mr. Willis about his penchant for going an entire film without actually moving any muscles in his face. Its a feat that has its own grotesque charm to it, so rigid is the mask he creates that is meant to convey steely determination or deadly resolve or too much Botox. In HOSTAGE, however, one is left with the conundrum of whether that is better or worse than when Mr. Willis cracks the façade with an attempt to convey an outburst of emotion. The jury is out, but Im leaning towards the former, rather than the latter. As for HOSTAGE, it, like the film, is a no-brainer, avoid at all costs.