Hostage starts as a tensely twist-filled action thriller, but through some serious missteps in logic and clichéd moments, it ends in a bloody mess.
Talk about pressure. When LAPD hostage negotiator extraordinaire Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis) has a bad day, lives are lost--and it is after one particularly bad day that Talley decides he's had it with the job. Plagued by guilt, he relocates his family and becomes the police chief of a sleepy northern California town. But it's about to be woken up. Corrupt accountant Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak) and his two kids--teenager Jennifer (Michelle Horn) and grade schooler Tommy (Jimmy Bennett)--are taken hostage in their house after a carjacking attempt by a trio of young punks goes awry. Talley is forced to step in once again as the hostage negotiator. Why, you may ask, since he is now just a lowly police man? Because it turns out Talley's family is being held captive by Walter's superiors, who need to get something very important out of the house. They demand the seasoned Talley take control of the situation before things get really ugly. And they do get ugly.
I'm sure Willis would say he agreed to play yet another reluctant hero whose family is in danger because the concept was intriguing. But we all know he probably made Hostage for the money. However, Willis is still an appealing actor and a tried and true action star. He infuses Talley with his usual quiet, strong demeanor, which inevitably turns tortured--and then revengeful--when things go badly. Another standout includes Ben Foster (HBO's Six Feet Under), who does a nice job as Mars, the most demented and brutal of the three kidnappers. Not only is the cold-blooded Mars on the edge, but he's also some kind of a super delinquent who's able to knock out police cars, professional hit men and the like with ease. Scary what they teach kids these days. Willis' daughter Rumer also gets some screen time as Talley's sullen daughter--but since she doesn't get to say much, the jury is still out on whether she's inherited any of her parents' acting skills.
Hostage unfortunately takes a good idea and ruins it. To his credit, French director Florent Siri, who is best known in his native country for crime thrillers, seems to understand about building the tension. The Smiths' isolated fortress situated in the hills is a perfect place to piece together the action-thriller ingredients: the shell-shocked cop trying not to repeat his past mistakes; the novice, in-over-their-heads kidnappers, lead by a trigger-happy psychopath; the resourceful and brave young hostages on the inside; and the menacingly ominous outside influences. But Hostage ends up taking these well-placed elements and running them into the ground. The film starts to drag in its logistical inconsistencies. Why don't the corporate baddies just come in and blow everyone away from the beginning? They obviously have the means to do so. But no. We are instead subjected to Willis running around, trying to outsmart everyone, natch, while having heartbreaking conversations with the precocious little boy inside the house. When things finally do come to a head, we are left with a severely over-the-top, overtly bloody climax.
Hostage grabs hold at first but quickly loses its grip as the movie spirals into another ho-hum variation of those popcorn-driven characters, plots and themes we come to expect in our action thrillers.