After a siege crisis blows up in his face, leaving an entire family dead, top LA hostage negotiator Jeff Talley (Willis) retires to a small Californian town as its chief of police. But one day three carjackers inadvertently take a local family hostage, forcing Talley back into action.
Five years. Five years of crap like The Whole Nine Yards, The Whole Ten Yards and Tears Of The Sun. Five long years since Unbreakable - the last time we had anything remotely approaching a cracking Bruce Willis movie. Now, Hostage is hardly a spectacular end to this famine (that honour will likely fall to Robert Rodriguez's upcoming comic-book adaptation, Sin City), but this convoluted-yet-fun action thriller does just enough to show that Willis has still got the drop on most of the young pretenders muscling in on his action hero business.
Right from the intriguing opening sequence, which hints at the bleakness which envelops the movie, Willis' Talley is an interesting character - he-s a truly broken man, more passive and vulnerable than the typical Willis protagonist. And even when, somewhat inevitably, he does what a man's gotta do, and the guns and all-action demeanour come out, the wisecracks stay firmly locked away, replaced by a palpable air of fear and desperation. It's a fine, deliberately underplayed performance by Willis, and he grounds the film in the face of an almost unfeasibly complicated plot, which piles contrivance upon contrivance - Kevin Pollak's hostage just happens to be a Mafia accountant? One of the three kidnappers is a card-carrying psychopath? - until it's all fit to burst.
Even with Willis' stoic performance anchoring the absurdity, this could have gone tits-up very easily - but former video-game director Siri, in his first English-language movie, manages to hold things together with some decent camerawork and some brave choices (an excellent sequence sees Willis bidding to rescue a hostage while at the mercy of Foster's maniac). Siege movies live and die by the tension they generate, and in making the plight of the squabbling hostage-takers as interesting as Willis' efforts to break into the compound and save his family, Siri manages to keep the audience on its toes.
Sadly, a horrendous final act, which sees the Mafia, the psycho and Willis all converge upon each other in a burning building, comes close to undoing his good work as Siri cranks up the slo-mo, hikes up the half-baked religious imagery and aims for a big emotional finish. He misses by some considerable distance.
In Willis terms, this is closer to Striking Distance than Die Hard. He's always good value, though, and at least the outlandish plot generates the odd surprise.