The template for all home-invasion movies remains 1955's The Desperate Hours, in which an upper-middle-class family defends its suburban home from a band of three crooks, who hole up in a tense standoff with the local police. Though gussied up by multiple, non-related abductions, Hostage basically recycles the same premise and all the reliable tension that goes along with it, except that modern conventions apparently dictate that the Red Cross deplete its plasma reserves. With Bruce Willis on board, the film works hard to duplicate the streamlined excitement of Die Hard, yet director Florent Siri thinks he's making Straw Dogs, and the appalling gratuitousness spoils an otherwise skillful (though madly implausible) thrill machine. Siri will go to any length to ratchet up the tension, but he ratchets too far: Would The Desperate Hours have been a better movie had Fredric March jammed a penknife into Humphrey Bogart's cheek?


After a tense prologue, in which hostage negotiator Willis supervises a standoff gone south, the film cuts to a year later, when he's settled into the less stressful job of running a quiet police station. But he's forced to confront old demons when three teenage hoodlums break into a secure estate to carjack an Escalade, but wind up holding crooked accountant Kevin Pollak and his two kids (Michelle Horn and Jimmy Bennett) hostage instead. The situation worsens when one of the perpetrators, a glowering sociopath played by Ben Foster, opens fire on the police and takes a disturbing interest in Pollak's daughter. Content to hand over the reins to another negotiator, Willis is forced into action when his own wife and daughter are kidnapped, and the shadowy men responsible want him to help them gain access to the house. It turns out that Pollak has burned a valuable DVD, for them and they don't want it to fall into the wrong hands.

It says everything about Hostage's hysterical pitch that a single kidnapping isn't sufficiently rousing, especially since the second, technologically superior abduction never needed to happen in the first place. Since only Pollak (who's presumed dead) and his employers even know that the DVD exists, wouldn't orchestrating this needlessly complex operation only draw attention to it? Had Hostage continued with its initial tight, stylish action dynamics, such lapses might have been more forgivable, but the tasteless violence, shock effects, and children-in-peril manipulation become hard to stomach. By the time the film escalates into a suitably ridiculous Grand Guignol finale, all connection to reality has been severed.