It's been a while since Bruce Willis had a bona fide hit, or at least one that didn't mock his screen persona. In Hostage, he attempts to restore his action credentials, but miscalculations will send this film to the bottom half of his résumé.
Willis plays LAPD hostage negotiator Jeff Talley who, in a well-staged opening sequence, quits the force after bungling an assignment. At the risk of alienating his wife (Serena Scott Thomas) and daughter (Willis's real-life daughter Rumer Willis), Jeff takes a police job in the small Ventura County town of Bristo Camino.
Unfortunately, his attempt to lie low is foiled when three disaffected youths break into a gated mansion owned by mob accountant Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak). Brothers Dennis (Jonathan Tucker) and Kevin (Marshall Allman) just seem mixed-up, but their partner Mars (Ben Foster) is a genuine psychopath who kills for fun. The robbery goes bad when they murder a cop after tripping a silent alarm, and the burglars take Walter, his daughter, Laura (Tina Lifford), and young son, Tommy (Jimmy Bennett), hostage.
Jeff tries to hand the problem over to county police. But Walter's crucial computer codes prompt gangsters to kidnap Jeff's wife and daughter. Against his wishes, Jeff is pulled back into the world he abandoned. Taking charge of the negotiations, he must find a way to save his family as well as Walter's.
Cell phone calls and empty confrontations propel the rest of the plot, which tries to drum up suspense by threats rather than concrete action. Hostage relies on genre truisms: gangsters never learn to back up their computer files, kidnappers inevitably fail to keep track of their charges, etc. But despite all the characters, backstories, plotlines, and the extraordinarily roomy ventilation ducts that snake throughout Walter's mansion, nothing much happens. The film takes its viewers hostage, locking them in a stasis filled with noise and empty posturing.
The best Willis films treat his heroics with good-natured disbelief, but Hostage surrounds them with the same dreary earnestness that afflicted Tears of the Sun. Screenwriter Doug Richardson shows his hand too early: before the film's half over, the characters have revealed all there is to know about them and the major plot twists have turned. All that's left is Willis's increasingly weary action moves. Director Florent Siri injects some style into the proceedings, but he's unable to make Hostage exciting...or even relevant.