How do you solve a problem like Bruce Willis? On the one hand, he's the barrel-chested, bullet-headed, no-nonsense action hero who takes out the trash in wise-cracking skull-thwackers such as Die Hard (and its on-going sequels) and The Last Boy Scout. On the other hand, he's the surprisingly sensitive Hollywood star whose money-spinning presence has helped promote such admirably intelligent fare as Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys and M Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense.
Occasionally a movie comes along that allows Willis to be both smart and violent, such as Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, in which he played a boxer who wields a punch, a chainsaw and a samurai sword with arch postmodern irony. But more often than not, Willis has had to choose between flexing his muscles and exercising his grey matter. Ask critics to name their favourite Willis film and they may well pick Alan Rudolph's Mortal Thoughts, a brilliant but sadly little-seen thriller in which Willis excelled as a resolutely unheroic abusive spouse. But ask a multiplex audience which new Bruce movie they're most looking forward to and chances are it'll be the forthcoming Die Hard 4.0, the prospect of which bespeaks a growing desperation for another sure-fire, no-brain, bankable hit.
All of which brings us to Hostage, a nasty, manipulative thriller that dearly wants to assert its offbeat, upmarket credentials (hey, the director's French!) even as it beats the audience about the head with gormless, explosive action. Willis stars as a top-flight LAPD hostage negotiator (stop sniggering at the back), Jeff Talley, whose winning streak ends in the film's opening moments when he makes a bad call on some off-the-peg crazy, with blood-splattered results.
Stricken with guilt, Talley shaves his head, hangs up his scruffy duds, and skulks off to become a uniformed police chief in the quiet backwater of Bristo Camino. Here, every day is a "low-crime Monday"--until three adolescent mongrels break into a house in an affluent neighbourhood, shoot a cop and hold hostage a family whose dad just happens to be an accountant for the Mob. To complicate matters, Talley's own family are kidnapped by said Mob, who want him to play this one according to their rules. Et voila! We have the Big Moral Dilemma that is summed up in the film's provocative tag line: "Would you sacrifice another family to save your own?"
According to the …