Ransom (Ron Howard)

Rating: **1/2 (out of ****)

The studio system of Hollywood's "Golden Age" may be gone, but aspects of it remain, encased in pragmatic amber. Case in point: while folks like Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton are today's versions of Welles and Hawks and Hitchcock, Ron Howard is the contemporary equivalent of guys like Michael Curtiz and Victor Fleming -- extremely competent craftsmen who never imposed their own personalities upon the films they made, and consequently rose and fell depending upon the strength of each individual project. Anything but an auteur, Howard unobtrusively serves whatever material he chooses, and thus his movies are only as good or as interesting as their scripts and casts; give him a compelling real-life drama that's been fine-tuned by (an uncredited) John Sayles and watch the Oscar nominations pile up, but give him the screenplay for Willow or Backdraft and it's freeway disaster time. Ransom, loosely based upon a 1956 Glenn Ford picture that almost nobody seems to have seen, is every bit as impressive onscreen as it must have been on the page...which is to say, not very, or not enough. True, for the first hour or so it's as gripping and involving as one could wish, due in large part to first-rate performances by Mel Gibson and Gary Sinise, as well as to a potentially marvelous central plot twist (which I won't reveal here even though you've doubtless learned about it from the ads). Of course, the most fascinating implications of this idea are utterly ignored, but I expected nothing else from a big-budget Hollywood thriller, so that didn't unduly upset me; what sinks Ransom are its myriad implausibilities -- moments that make you bury your face in your palms and quietly groan. (Those interested in the gory details should search in DejaNews for my name and the phrase "Random Implausibilities" -- I started a honkin' big thread on the subject on Usenet.) An occasional absurdity I can tolerate, but when the entire third act of an otherwise naturalistic drama is predicated upon something that would clearly never ever ever ever happen -- when the "YeahRight Factor" is cranked up to 11 -- that, folks, is when your humble servant checks out. Apart from making no sense, Ransom is, I will grudgingly admit, pretty entertaining, although indie icons Lili Taylor and Liev Schreiber are wasted in mundane roles (not that I begrudge them the opportunity to make some real money for a change), and Rene Russo has inexplicably been cast yet again in a part that requires an actor -- which, her passable work in Tin Cup notwithstanding, she has repeatedly demonstrated that she is not. Russo is emotionally devastated by the abduction of her child? YeahRight.