Cinema Signal:

by Robert Crais

. "Hostage"

When I read Robert Crais' novel, "Hostage" back in '02, I was impressed by its high calibre in the action thriller genre. I wasn't concerned about it eventually getting made into a movie since discovery of its celluloid potentials was inevitable. My expectation has now been realized... and my disappointment won't come as a surprise to anyone who sees it.

Crais' mastery ("Demolition Angel," "Voodoo River," "L.A. Requiem") gave us a magnetic central figure whose personal psychology and feel for human behavior under stress made him an exquisitely capable hostage negotiator. Bruce Willis is a great choice to convey the subtleties and power contained within the man who, as burned-out LAPD officer Jeff Talley, now commands the small town police station in Ventura County, California. The idea for him is to avoid serious crimes and sociopathic criminals -- a sort of working retirement after a failure he has had trouble coping with.

Only when a group of young miscreants with rap sheets take it into their heads to take Jennifer Smith (Michelle Horn), one of the rich girls in school, down a notch and break into her father's hillside compound for a little car thievery, Talley's escape from the hard, tension-filled life is about to come to an abrupt end.

Their easy penetration into the garage where the Smiths' pricey SUV and a sports car are housed makes one wonder about the efficacy of a high security system NASA would envy. In any case, once inside, Dennis Kelly (Jonathan Tucker), the self-styled leader of the bunch, gets curious about the rest of the mansion and who might be home. He quickly finds Dad, Walter Smith (Kevin Pollack), daughter Jennifer and 9 year-old, game-playing son Tommy (Jimmy Bennet).

The shock of the alien presence disarms the family but Dad retains the good sense to offer them whatever they want. He gets beaten into life-threatening unconsciousness by the third car-jacking hoodlum, sociopathic Mars Krupcheck (Ben Foster).

But, thievery, home invasion and personal injury are not the only things going on here. It's no ordinary citizen who would set himself up with an impregnable fortress -- even a rich one. This state-of-the-art system with cameras everywhere and the ability to lock down against an invading battalion was violated in this instance only because no one inside was watching the monitors. Smith had it installed because he is the key money mover involved with an international cartel of bank fraud, money laundering and crime. And, when his bosses hear on the news about the troubles at their accountant's place, they stop at nothing to obtain his latest DVD with the codes to their treasures.

After making first phone contact with Dennis Kelly inside, Talley is quick to turn over the negotiation to an appointed officer from L.A. Talley wants out. And, just as he thought he'd pulled off a successful withdrawal from the tensions, he's captured by the crime cartel and shown his wife and daughter bound, and in their possession. The deal is that he has to get the DVD and trade it for his family. How to do that is entirely up to him. The issue now has become very personal.

Nothing that goes wrong with this movie, as a whole, should be laid on its star. What is at fault is the adaptation. Screenwriter Doug Richardson and director Florent Emilio Siri are the perps. Had they stuck closer to the psychological impetus of the novel, their movie might have re-created its effectiveness and originality. Instead, they go into genre-pandering directions and send the spiraling desperation up in smoke -- petrol induced.

Their fixation on action draws the resulting movie away from the character depth that made Crais' book a completely fascinating and original best seller. The novelist created human beings whose natural actions modulated into an ascending, out-of-control vortex of danger and conflict. The adapters lapsed into familiar stereotypes. I urge everyone who goes for action thrillers to pick up the book.

                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Kevin Pollack and Bruce Willis
Tension mounts as hostages increase

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