Courtesy Photo
Directed by Ron Howard

Starring Mel Gibson, Renee Russo, Gary Sinise, Delroy Lindo and Lili Taylor.


Opened: November 8, 1996 | Rated: R

Director Ron Howard has churned out another terse, handsome, homogenized American movie this week.

"Ransom," starring Mel Gibson as a airline tycoon whose 8-year-old son is kidnapped, has all the trappings of a box-office success -- energetic pacing, adequate tension, name stars and a few minor twists to shake up its audience.

While meticulous in its depiction of emotion and fear, "Ransom" is ringing with the somewhat tired trademarks of many of Howard's films. Overhead and swinging camera shots come every few scenes. A heavy-handed sense of right and wrong dominates the first 90 minutes and feel-good predictability takes over toward the end. All part of the Howard formula.

In "Ransom," a bunch of half-hearted kidnappers under the thumb of a rogue cop snatch Gibson's boy and demand $2 million for his return. They have it all figured out -- even how to beat the FBI's high-tech sleuths -- until one kidnapper's devotion wanes and the plan begins to unravel.

The delivery of the turncoat kidnapper (ex-teeny bopper idol Donnie Wahlburg) comes way too early and even includes the line "You didn't say nothin' about killin' no kid, man."

In the mean time Gibson, our virtuous hero with a single, character-building fault (another Howardism), decides to play tough and goes on TV refusing to pay the ransom, instead offering money as a reward on the kidnappers heads.

Like "Backdraft" and "Far and Away," the hero has a couple watershed, tough-guy cries, and Gibson has certainly demonstrated that he's up to showing manly, vein-popping emotion.

Rene Russo (who makes me wonder every time I see her if she looks so young in her 40s by way of good genes or winters under the knife) is the passionate, but ultimately passive wife and mother. Delroy Lindo ("Get Shorty") is, as always, a sturdy supporting player as the FBI man holding fort in Gibson's living room, tapping phones and offering reassuring advice.

I don't mean to spend this whole review knocking "Ransom." The story is quite a fresh take on an old idea, and it packs a few surprises along with some of Hollywood's better actors in clever roles (Gary Sinise and Lili Taylor are both in on the kidnapping).

But Howard tends to wrap things up just too neat and tidy. Like in "Backdraft," when the arsonist turns out to be a fireman and saves William Baldwin from a complicated ending, "Ransom" builds to two separate climaxes then ties up all its loose ends like a pretty bow on a present you already knew you were getting.

And he's none to subtle about it, even early on. Gibson, Russo and the other good guys are often bathed in golden lighting, while the kidnappers use space heaters to warm their dumpy apartment, giving them a persistent red glow.

The movie is far from a disaster, but since Ron Howard has a tendency to shoot from a television frame of mind, waiting for "Ransom" on video wouldn't be a crime.

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