It may not be fashionable these days to say it, but I like Bruce Willis. He has a compelling screen presence, he is a good if limited actor who knows his range and is brave enough to test his limits, and his voice is both attractive and unmistakable, which is just what a star needs.
His new film "Hostage" doesn't demand much of him, though for the first 45 minutes we're happy to watch an expertly constructed film that carefully moves step by step through a classic suspense structure. Unfortunately, that's when the film begins to implode and loses all credibility. "Hostage" starts well as Willis's character, Jeff Talley, is a Los Angeles police negotiator confronting a man holding a woman and child hostage in their home. He loses that confrontation and bears the guilt of the deaths. Cut to some time later when he's now the chief of police in a small Ventura County town, chasing nothing worse than a runaway dog. Until - yes, there's another hostage situation, a car theft gone very badly wrong when three young punks find themselves trapped in the palatial mountain-top home of wealthy Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak) and his children, teenage Jennifer and eight-year-old Tommy.
So far, so good. Classic hostage situation, Chief Talley to the rescue. But then writer Doug Richardson and director Florent Siri introduce another plot out of left field. Walter is in with some sort of offshore mob and keeps the secrets on his shelf of DVDs. Somehow his bosses need them instantly and create hostage situation number two, kidnapping Jeff's wife and teenage daughter. Why they think that will help them get the goods is not for us to know, when what they should do is just sit tight and wait for Jeff to handle things.
And that's where all our suspension of disbelief - the core of any suspense film - flies away, never to return. In fact director Siri ratchets up the violence quotient so far that it's a wonder anybody survives the holocaust he's staged at the climax. The film is thirty minutes too long and a few plot twists too many. "Hostage" is a Miramax release; where was the fabled Harvey Scissorhands when we needed him? Probably still negotiating with Disney.