Bruce Willis, the consummate action hero for the people, returns in a big way in Hostage, but brings along neither his wise-guy sneer, nor, mercifully, his singing voice. He’s not, after all, playing John McClane, and this is not Die Hard 4.0 (actually slated to come out next year). Better yet, he’s not dragging his fans through the slum of bad movies he’s been in lately (The Whole Ten Yards, anyone?).

The first English-language movie for French director Florent Emilio Siri (The Nest), the film is a far more stylized and serious action drama than anything in Willis’ Die Hard franchise.

It’s based on Robert Crais’ page-turner by the same name, and Willis plays Jeff Talley, a family man and master hostage negotiator. Talley burns out after a botched Los Angeles domestic showdown ends in a murder-suicide. Hoping for escape, he takes a job as a police chief in a suburban town, only to wind up in the middle of another hostage crisis. Three teens pick the wrong rich family to rob, and then hold the father and two kids inside their well-fortified home.

The situation is complicated when unnamed bad guys kidnap Talley’s family, hoping to blackmail him into recovering something they want from inside the house. The bad guys are part of a crime syndicate, not a “terror cell” as commercials for the movie boast, shamefully playing the terrorism card.

Hostage, however, is not a political movie, although it is quite terrifying. It’s an exercise in film noir that’s dark, bloody and often nearly too intensely violent to watch.

Director Siri and cinematographer Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci sometimes take the terror too far, especially in the climax. The big battle is filmed beautifully in a rain of bullets, glass, water and fire, but the artistry overreaches when all is said and done, nearing the point of melodrama.

Nevertheless, if Willis was looking for a vehicle in which to redeem himself as an action hero, he chose wisely with Hostage. His fans will be pleased.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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