Taken “Hostage”

Want to know a fun fact? “Die Hard” is based on a book. Nope, I’m not kidding. So is “Die Hard 2.” And the same is true for the upcoming “Sin City.” Even the coolest action movies can have their roots in literature. “Hostage” (Miramax) is no different. Based on a novel by Robert Crais, Bruce Willis’ latest badass action flick is just another example of my time-tested theory that reading is for suckers.

L.A. hostage negotiator Jeff Talley (Willis) is the best there is. He’s calm under pressure and knows how to defuse bad situations. But unfortunately for Jeff, a bad day at work for can mean bloodshed. Having learned this lesson the hard way, the traumatized Talley retreats to the sleepy California suburb of Bristo Camino, where intense police work involves writing tickets. But when a home invasion by teenage townies goes awry, Talley’s old skills are put to the test in order to save Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak, “Casino”) and his two children. And as Talley soon learns, Smith’s family isn’t the only one in danger. Someone far more menacing than misguided teens needs something from inside the Smith estate and is holding Talley’s wife and daughter until he can get it.

So is Bruce back after 10 years away from quality action-thriller fare? In short: yes, big time. But “Hostage” is not so much a slam-bang action-flick as it is a tense thriller. The strength of the film lies in the tight script by Doug Richardson (who, if you believe recent comments by Willis, is currently writing “Die Hard 4.0” for a fall release). Richardson’s screenplay hammers it home with a set of characters who feel both real enough and desperate enough to make their actions believable.

While there’s an abundance of both thrills and gunshots, there’s also more than enough reasons to care about the characters, making every bullet memorable. And director Florent Siri’s impressive camera work and razor-sharp pacing makes for a film that commands every second of your attention. While “Hostage” isn’t a flawless picture (watch for the occasional plot hole and the typical too-smart-too-brave kid on the inside), even the most ardent Willis detractors will have a hard time not finding something to like. After all, when it comes to blockbusters, Bruno wrote the book.

“Hostage” opens Friday in Washington, D.C.

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