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HOSTAGE Maybe it's because it was produced by his own company, Cheyenne Enterprises. Or maybe it's because the part of his character's imperiled daughter is played by his real-life daughter, Rumer Willis. Or maybe it's simply because he's been slumbering too long. Whatever the reason, Bruce Willis has woken up in time to deliver a committed performance in this adaptation of Robert Crais' novel. Opening with a stylized, eye-popping title sequence that might lead viewers to think they're catching an early sneak of the new Batman flick, Hostage then settles into familiar crime territory with the introduction of Willis as Jeff Talley, an LAPD hostage negotiator whose botching of a tense standoff leaves him with innocent blood on his hands and prods him into moving to a sleepy community where the crime rate hovers around zero. But once three ruffians attempting to steal a car end up killing a police officer and subsequently taking a family hostage, Talley finds himself back in the sort of situation he would like to avoid. For a good while, director Florent Siri and scripter Doug Richardson do their pulpy material proud, with a real attention to both exposition and execution. But as the storyline gets more crowded (another gang of villains ends up holding Talley's own family hostage), the attention shifts from individual character detail and psychological chess matches to outlandish developments and ludicrous resolutions to the various plot strands. 1/2

THE SEA INSIDE Go figure: Spain's Alejandro Amenabar makes three terrific movies back-to-back-to-back - the foreign imports Thesis and Open Your Eyes and the Nicole Kidman vehicle The Others - but because they're in the disreputable genres of (turn nose upward here) horror and fantasy, they're viewed as little more than reasonably entertaining matinee fodder. Yet the minute Amenabar makes a movie about a subject as serious as (nod head approvingly here) euthanasia, flowers are tossed from balconies, the champagne flows freely, and prizes start arriving by the carload. Winner of both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film - not to mention the recipient of a whopping 14 Goya Awards (Spain's Oscar equivalent) - The Sea Inside is respectable but undistinguished, and it places a distant second to 2004's other award winner about euthanasia (don't ask, won't tell). Javier Bardem, whose performance as Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls deserved the 2000 Oscar, is understandably more subdued this time around; he's cast as Ramon Sampredo, a writer who's spent close to three decades as a quadriplegic following a swimming accident. Paralyzed from the neck down, Ramon has decided that he wants to end his life, a revelation that sparks a flurry of wildly differing opinions not only from household members but from seemingly every citizen of Spain. Based on a true story, The Sea Inside suffers from using its protagonist as merely a mouthpiece through which to channel noble platitudes about freedom of choice and occasionally testy tirades aimed at the church. That's all well and good, but it's only through sheer force of personality that Bardem manages to add any human dimension to this paper martyr. 1/2

Current Releases

BE COOL Yet one more lazy sequel to a great film, Be Cool is a major disappointment that fails to capture the essence of what made Get Shorty such a terrific film experience. The movie never provides a compelling argument for its own existence: Because it spends far more time salivating over musical numbers featuring pop star Christina Milian than on watching shylock-turned-movie-producer Chili Palmer (John Travolta) test the shark-infested waters of the music business, it's clear that priorities are out of whack. The degree to which characters, plot developments and even snatches of dialogue mimic those from the first film is irritating, and while there are some big laughs, they're isolated moments of mirth cast adrift in an ocean of indifference.

BRIDE & PREJUDICE As she did with Bend It Like Beckham, writer-director Gurinder Chadha has tentatively mixed the worlds of Hollywood and Bollywood, fashioning a global tale out of Jane Austen's Brit-lit staple Pride and Prejudice. Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai plays Lalita Bakshi, one of four sisters whose pushy mom (Nadira Babbar) is perennially trying to find her children suitable Indian husbands. Mrs. Bakshi attempts to hook Lalita up with an Anglicized nerd (Nitin Chandra Ganatra), but the independent-minded woman instead finds herself torn between sly English charmer Johnny Wickham (Daniel Gillies) and American businessman Will Darcy (dull Martin Henderson). Bride is far less polished than Beckham, but Rai makes an appealing heroine, and the movie's musical numbers are a treat to behold.

CONSTANTINE Based on the DC Comics/Vertigo series Hellblazer, this disappointment casts Keanu Reeves as John Constantine, a man with the ability to recognize the angels and demons that walk the earth in human form. Yet as he goes about his business of wiping out as many of the demonic "half-breeds" as possible (in an attempt to "buy" his way into Heaven), he realizes that there's a seismic shift occurring in the underworld, and the only way he can get to the bottom of the mystery is to join forces with a police detective (Rachel Weisz) investigating the apparent suicide of her psychic twin sister. Because it's an exhaustive exercise to keep abreast of the story's seemingly haphazard developments, Constantine ends up resembling nothing so much as a punctured tire with a slow leak, letting all the air seep out until what's finally left is flat and fairly ineffectual.

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