Rich Man's Burden

And it's somewhat offensive that, in this movie about the safety of a child, the child is treated as a sack of potatoes -- oh, all right, a scared sack of potatoes. Most of the time we see Sean trussed up and bandaged, and that's it -- he's the McGuffin. The filmmakers are about as feeling toward him as the kidnappers are.

Another low point: the scene where Delroy Lindo calls his wife from Mullen's apartment and tells her to give a special kiss to their little girl. "I'm sure glad I'm not rich," he says. This banter is supposed to make us feel good we're poor, I suppose, but it's outrageous. Do the filmmakers think only rich kids get abducted? The film seems to be saying, If you're going to get your child kidnapped, you'd better be rich because only your high profile will get you the VIP treatment from the feds.

Mel Gibson isn't bad in Ransom. He's actually better than he was in Braveheart, what with all that ranting and blue face-paint. Gibson projects a kind of bullish derangement that works well here, but the acting honors, such as they are, are stolen by Sinise, who at least makes Shaker's deep-down resentments rattle the screen. He's a psycho to place beside John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire -- they deserve each other.

Howard needs Sinise's cool craziness because, without him, the film has no temperature. Apollo 13, Howard's last film, was essentially a thriller beneath all the retro homiletics, and, in Ransom, he seems to be trying for Apollo 14. But he doesn't have a gift for pulp. Howard once upon a time was a wonderful director of comedy, but he must see himself as a new-style old-style Hollywood hand. Backdraft, Apollo 13, Cocoon, Far and Away. None of them made a Splash with me. Ransom is his film-noir thriller, but he doesn't manage much noir. The best he gets is film gris.

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