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Notes from the back row

Bruce Willis saves the day, again.

Where would civilization be without Bruce Willis? What would we do when the shit really hits the fan and we need someone to dig really deep and see what he’s actually made of and give 110 per cent?

Where would we find that disillusioned former secret agent to nobly put aside his mixed past and step up to the plate and embody the everyman American hero to save the day at the last second? Who would we look too if there was no Bruce Willis? Not only has he saved the world from being struck by a giant asteroid ( Armageddon ), he’s also saved New York from terrorist attacks ( The Siege ), he’s saved the future of humanity twice ( The 5 th Element, 12 Monkeys ) and, perhaps most importantly, he’s saved professional football ( The Last Boyscout). That’s not even counting the Die Hard movies where good old Bruce continuously saves his family, friends, and everything else imaginable. Hell, even when he’s dead Bruce Willis can still save the day ( The Sixth Sense). And now he’s at it again, in the crappily named Hostage , opening Friday at the Village 8.

Willis plays an ex-L.A. hostage negotiator who drops the ball and gets two innocent hostages killed. It’s more than he can handle so he opts to "retire" and becomes a small-town police chief, much to his daughter’s dismay.

Suddenly, young, psychotic thieves take a wealthy-but-shady businessman and his two children hostage in their creepy, heavily fortified home. Chief Willis refuses to help until a mysterious masked gunman captures his own family and forces Bruce to obtain a secret disc that’s hidden in the house. It’s hostages galore, but even the fires of hell and a lot of action and acting overkill can’t stop Bruce Willis from saving the day.

Actually, Hostage , is visually slick. The shots and editing are top notch and it’s a tense action-packed ride if you can get over the fact that it all seems quite familiar. Borrowing heavily from a bucket of cliches and other movies (there’s even a Die Hard -esque hiding in the air vent sequence) Hostage comes off as nothing particularly new. It’s because everyone in writing school is getting Joesph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey theory crammed down their throats. It’s a cookie cutter character device that basically lays out how to "create" a hero. George Lucas used it successfully on the first Star Wars movies and people have been all over it ever since.

But other than that, Hostage is tense, rated R, and things get ridiculously out of hand at the end (the only real humour in the film). Plus, Bruce Willis proves that he can still play along and save the day when called upon. Not going to change your life, but if this winter’s got you bogged down in a smoky haze of deep depression and self-doubt, well, Hostage is great escapism and these days that’s enough.

Speaking of escaping, cartoons, or "animated features," can sometimes be good for that too. Get a bunch of cartoon whatevers: ants, bugs, robots, teddy bears, sharks – anything will do. Place them in a class struggle environment, fighting oppression, and fill it all with semi-clever allusions to other movies/pop culture and you have an animated classic that children and adults will love. Or so they say.

Fresh off the assembly line is Robots . Visually it’s stunning, William Joyce has drawn a beautiful world of recognizable machine parts come to life. But other than that and a thin poke at George W. Bush, (the film infers he’s a dictator with nothing but corporate interests in mind) there’s really not much in Robots to get too wound up about.

AT VILLAGE 8 March 11-17: Hostage; Robots; Sideways; The Pacifier; Aviator; Ong Bak: Thai Warrior; Constantine; Hitch; Million Dollar Baby; Be Cool.