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Thursday, September 2, 2010

HELD HOSTAGE -- DVD review by porfle

Adapted from the fact-based novel by Michelle Renee, the first half of HELD HOSTAGE (2009) is the usual woman-in-peril thriller you'd expect from Lifetime, while the rest of the film deals with the main character's struggle to get her life back and "be strong."  Basically, it delivers equal measures of snap and sap.

Divorced mother Michelle Estey (Julie Benz, "Dexter") is a bank manager who is kidnapped and forced to rob her own bank while her young daughter Breea (Natasha Calis) is being held hostage in their own home.  Michelle pulls off the robbery and gets Breea back, but is then accused of being in on the plan herself.  As dogged Det. Ben Summers (Bruce McGill, ANIMAL HOUSE) and the district attorney build a case against her, Michelle must rebuild the pieces of her shattered life while proving her innocence in court.

HELD HOSTAGE is fairly competent by TV-movie standards but isn't quite the kind of film promised by the DVD cover.  The part which deals with the kidnapping and bank robbery builds some suspense as Michelle, strapped with dynamite, a remote detonator, and a microphone, frantically tries to alert a bank employee without giving herself away (you want to strangle the dimwitted employee when she keeps repeating "What?")

Director Grant Harvey strains to make these scenes as nerve-wracking as possible but they end up being overwrought.  The scattershot editing and Spaz-Cam may even elicit occasional laughter, especially the quick cuts of Julie Benz desperately flitting and leaping around during the kidnapping.  Nevertheless, it's all passably exciting and is the best part of the movie for anyone expecting a thriller. 

After the dust settles, the second half of HELD HOSTAGE focuses on Michelle's emotional turmoil and her victimization by the system that's supposed to be helping her.  Now Julie Benz must go from woman-in-peril into wispy-weepy mode, becoming a little less sufferable every time she gets that pinched expression and breaks into tears.  She's got plenty to cry about, too, as Detective Summers digs up dirt about her past (she once made ends meet as a stripper) and the sleazy lawyer defending one of the kidnappers rakes her over the coals in court. 

Michelle's tearful pep-talk sessions with a maternal therapist, meant to encourage women viewers to overcome adversity and "be strong", lapse into schmaltz.  So does her final courtroom speech which is punctuated by close-ups of various female jurors reacting with obvious sympathy.  The upshot of it all is pretty predictable, with a climax that's as blandly inspirational as an After School Special. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and English and Spanish subtitles.  A trailer is the sole extra.

HELD HOSTAGE is a mildly effective but pedestrian suspense thriller for awhile before it morphs into sappy and sometimes preachy melodrama.  Lifetime channel fans familiar with this type of movie should enjoy it, but unsuspecting viewers looking for an edge-of-your-seat experience will most likely be underwhelmed. 

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