Feeling the Heat: The Hostage (1998)

By the end of the ’90s, director Bryan Todd had switched his attention from sci-fi to action. Dave got in touch with the filmmaker again to find out why.

In the wake of his debut picture, The P.A.C.K. (1997), in which he made good use of a David A. Prior script and whatever else the legendary B-movie director could provide, Bryan Todd got on the blower again to the low-budget icon in his Alabama bunker, to give a little assistance on his sophomore feature THE HOSTAGE. He did so in collaboration with his partner in production company 4 Corners Entertainment, Zac Reeder (who recently held the position of Netflix’s Senior Manager in Content Acquisitions), and Todd explained how jumping on the coattails of a box office behemoth was the reasoning behind the switch from science-fiction to action.

“The Hostage was an idea that Zac came up with. Heat (1995) had just come out and we were all crime film in the brain. [Producer] Gerry Wolff helped me put the picture together, and back to Mobile we went to shoot another film. This time I got Dave Prior to do second unit on a lot of my action sequences and, frankly, he saved me. I got his brother Ted to play the lead once more, and we also were able to get Cynthia Rothrock to star as well.” 

Let’s not forget the penultimate movie appearance from tragic actress Dana Plato too, which completes a roster of talent that, for some reason, failed to lure in video store punters in the way one might expect – because upon release The Hostage vanished from sight almost as quickly as Plato’s fleeting cameo.

Perhaps it was the absence of Rothrock’s notorious scorpion kick. In The Hostage, the martial arts queen seems very static, and here only on pay cheque duty as Tactical Agent Rebecca Peters. Peters is tasked with solving a hostage situation where seven hoodlums have invaded the palatial mansion of wealthy businessman Jonathan Bates (Art James) with the intention of hacking his computer, and draining his well-stocked current accounts.

In a Michael Mann-style nod to laborious groundwork, this motley crew of crooks have apparently been planning this heist meticulously for three years. Led by savage bruiser Jack (William Kerr – “Get ready for the biggest haul the world has ever seen”), they boast the usual assortment of specialists, with former forces guy Ted (Prior) picking up the bulk of the screen time. He’s a well-sketched character, having lost his wife Jenna when she was fatally wounded during an armed robbery, which serves as the justification for taking this gig to secure a good future for his young daughter – “I need a new start, and this job will give it to me. To us!”

Briskly paced and making effective use of its primary location, The Hostage is pleasing enough to be categorised as a satisfying time-killer, even if Todd himself is more critical of it.

“It’s a run-of-the-mill action thing. Nothing special, and that’s my fault really. You need some budget to do action well and we just didn’t have it.  But it sold and that’s the bottom line in the international biz of film. I learned my shortcomings on that film, and I was pushed to the absolute limit. We tried to accomplish a tremendous amount: helicopters, lots of extras, guns, guns, guns! And looking back, it was probably too ambitious.”

I’m inclined to disagree. If anything, the action is the star of the show, pressing a sticking plaster over imperfections like thinly drawn characters (well, Prior’s role excluded), shaky exposition, and the thought process behind Bates’ bank account password being a rather unsavoury homophobic slur. Further still, there’s a distrustful dynamic between the criminals which adds a little weight to action-free segments. The Hostage is undeniably a little rough around the edges – but it’s a commendable effort. And as Todd suggests, both it and The P.A.C.K served him well for the rest of his career.

“Out of the two, I think I prefer The P.A.C.K. It just works better, and it really was a lot more fun. Everyone was staying in Dave’s house and there was real camaraderie on that picture. But both of those movies really aided my development as a director, producer, and editor and they catapulted me into the career I still have today.  I’m very lucky that thirty years later I can still make a living out of it. The business is ebb and flow. Always has been, always will be. It’s our ability to ride out the bullshit, and to go on and make epic stuff that makes it all worth it.”

USA ● 1998 ● Action ● 85mins

Ted Prior, Cynthia Rothrock, Dana Plato, William Kerr ● Dir. Bryan Todd ● Wri. Zac Reeder

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