After some awful high profile action movies, Bruce Willis settled into more of a supporting role. He became more selective with the films he chose, in the process picking things that were interesting to him and fans while broadening his ability. Now, when he does an action film like Hostage, it is more of a small event than a huge endeavor. The results pay off well. Willis (The Whole Ten Yards, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle) fits well into the role of Jeff Talley, police chief of the sleepy, calm suburb of Bristo Camino. Just one year ago he was a hotshot hostage negotiator who felt responsible for the deaths of two hostages. In Bristo Camino, he doesn't need to worry about any sort of danger. Talley is somebody who was stung by taking chance, and now wants to play it safe.

The first two-thirds of Hostage are impressive. French director Florent Siri (The Nest, Une Minute de Silence) and screenwriter Doug Richardson (Welcome to Mooseport, Money Train) adapt the novel by Robert Crais and give it a tense, claustrophobic feel, similar to Panic Room. The story moves extremely quickly, and Talley is pressured to succeed on all sides. But when the film enters its last third, the American sensibility for overkill takes over. Everything becomes too grandiose, and the carefully constructed script collapses under its own weight. Hostage even gets a bit corny, with too much fire, slow motion, and cheesy symbolism. It takes away Talley, the flawed man and replaces him with Bruce Willis action hero, a move that is not good for the credibility of the film.

The only thing left to do is enjoy the first part and forget about the rest. Three young punks, Dennis (Jonathan Tucker, Stateside, Criminal), Mars (Ben Foster, The Punisher, Northfork), and Kevin (Marshall Allman, Little Black Book, Shallow Ground) decide to rob the wrong house when they target Walter Smith (Kevin Pollack, The Whole Ten Yards, The Santa Clause 2). Smith is an accountant for some shady characters who are awaiting a DVD with encrypted information on it. The trio quickly shoots a police officer responding to a silent alarm, then all hell breaks loose. Smith's children, Jennifer (Michelle Horn, Mental Hygiene, The Ruby Princess Runs Away) and Tommy (Pooh's Heffalump Movie, The Polar Express) are still trapped in the house. Talley is knows he is out of his element, so he calls in the Sheriff's department to handle matters.

The tension increases when the people who work with Smith kidnap Talley's family and order him to retrieve the DVD. In the meantime, Dennis, Kevin, and Mars discover that Smith's house is like a compound, and find two large bags of cash. The house itself is a character. It is large, ominous, and fully of secret passageways and crawlspaces. News copters are broadcasting the events live. Tommy manages to reach Talley on his cell phone, making things even more personal. Jennifer and Tommy remind Talley of his own daughter, and he has no desire to see any more people die. This means he has to overcome his guilt from a year before, and somehow work the situation so that he can get Jennifer and Tommy out safely, ensure the safety of his family, and turn the tables on Smith's unknown associates. It's a role that requires Willis to be both tough and empathetic, and he's one of the few people that can pull it off. Talley now has to step back into the fray and reassert command against the wishes of the Sheriff's department, and somehow untangle this huge mess. It's a great setup. Now, if only the payoff was better.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 42 minutes, Rated R for strong graphic violence, language, and some drug use.

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