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‘Hostage’ guilty of overkill

Bruce Willis stars as a former hostage negotiator . By John Hartl

Some action movies don’t know when to quit. Piling manipulated crisis on top of manipulated crisis, they fail to allow the audience a breather and end up looking ridiculous.

Such is the case with the new Bruce Willis police drama, “Hostage,” which fatally hypes up a simple, time-tested plot by adding elements of “Die Hard,” “Death Wish,” “Home Alone” and half a dozen other movies that resist being squeezed into this package. Humor is almost missing, and gaudy overkill is rampant.

If other hostage movies are content with one endangered family, “Hostage” feels the need to give us two (this really should be called "Hostages"). If other movies about elaborate heists are happy to focus on one gang of thieves, “Hostage” again gives us two. If the result is confusing, if there’s not enough screen time to establish one family or one gang convincingly, the filmmakers can always fall back on Willis’ presence to carry them over the rough spots.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough. As Jeff Talley, a Los Angeles hostage negotiator who quits his job because he fails to save a woman and her child, Willis may seem a little more vulnerable than usual — he even sheds tears on occasion — but he shows us little he hasn’t revealed before in similar circumstances.

There are almost no surprises when the character retreats to policing a low-crime town in Ventura County, yet still finds himself negotiating for hostages. This time the chief victims are a widowed multimillionaire accountant (Kevin Pollak), his teenage daughter (Michelle Horn) and his resourceful young son (Jimmy Bennett, doing a more-than-acceptable Macaulay Culkin impersonation).

Even though they’re living in a high-tech fortress that seems to be surrounded by the 21st century equivalent of a moat, three vicious kids (Marshall Allman, Jonathan Tucker and the scene-stealing Ben Foster) manage to crack their surveillance system. Soon they’re beating up on Dad, tying up the boy and sexually threatening the girl.

When Dad’s corrupt business practices complicate the situation, by adding a new and more brutal gang and yet another threatened family, the movie spirals out of control. The third act, pumped up with pushy music and showboat editing, consistently invites giggles.

At this point, the script by Doug Richardson (“Die Hard 2”), based on a novel by Robert Crais, utterly loses any connection with the reality it’s attempted to establish during the movie’s earlier scenes. Richardson’s occasional attempts at making social statements, about screwed-up rich people, delinquent juveniles and self-sacrificing cops, fly right out the window.

The opening-credits sequence is unusually stylish, hinting at film-noirish touches that never quite materialize. The director, Florent Siri (“The Nest”), demonstrates a fondness for impressive 3-D-like effects that suggest the use of multi-plane camerawork in vintage Disney cartoons.

Photographed by Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci (“Under the Tuscan Sun”), the entire film is visually arresting, suggesting a cinematic flair that could be more rewarding in other circumstances. Siri and/or Coltellacci may be more successful in pulling it all together with their next films.