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To Mel and Back

Mel Gibson

Gibson roars for revenge in 'Ransom'

By Richard von Busack

MEL GIBSON'S latest, Ransom, is no great shakes. It's no little shakes, either--an elephantine kidnapping thriller that turns (well, clenches) on parental love. After more than two hours of Ransom's tweezing that particular nerve, you go numb. I can only recommend it as a demonstration of how lovely Lili Taylor is when she's lighted by a really superb cinematographer (in this case, Piotr Sobocinski, who shot Krzystoff Kieslowski's Red). Taylor, however, plays another mangy witch, signaling her evil--as if she needed to--with a major tattoo, a clannad heart stamped right on her throat. Isn't Taylor about due for a really well-written urban romantic comedy? Here, she uses up every gesture she has to show meanness, and then subsides into the woodwork, just one of a squad of criminal rats who turn on each other when the ship starts to sink.

Gibson plays airline tycoon Tom Mullen, whose only son is snatched right from his mother's side. The crime has been masterminded by someone the police wouldn't suspect--namely, a police detective named Jimmy Shaker (Gary Sinise). Ransom is a remake of a 1956 MGM film noir of the same title, which Leslie Halliwell, in his Film Guide, calls "virtually a vehicle for a star at his twitchiest and most dogged." The more things change, the more they stay the same: Halliwell was talking about Glenn Ford, but aren't "twitchy" and "dogged" exactly the words for Gibson under full steam? Ford's and Gibson's features blur in the memory when recalling Gibson's two modes here: roaring at the kidnappers and collapsing in fatherly anguish. Delroy Lindo shows up as an FBI agent so kindly he's practically a grief counselor, and Rene Russo has the thankless role of the distraught mom. As lively as the duo made Get Shorty, neither performance stimulates this loose thriller.

Director Ron Howard leads the film dispassionately and unimaginatively, with too much faith in the merits of the talky script, although Ransom almost has a subject for a moment, flashing a little class conflict just like actresses used to flash a little stocking. Gibson's Mullen is not merely a self-made tycoon, he's also a minor white-collar criminal who was dragged through the tabloids for implications that he offered a sweetheart deal to a union organizer (to soften our dislike of Mullen, it's explained that he was afraid of losing the company over a strike). In the crucible of the kidnapping crisis, Mullen is supposed to redeem himself as a man. The film tells us that it's a triumph for Mullen when he turns the tables on the bad guys--by enlisting the public's help when he puts a price on their heads. Some breakthrough: He's just offering a larger bribe than he ever did before. Ransom is an example of what a queasy subject the super-rich are in the movies. Ransom's crypto-populism (in a speech in which Sinise's kidnapper justifies himself) appeals to the mass audience, while the filmmakers end up showing the deference to millionaires you'd expect from makers of a $40 million to $50 million movie.

Ransom (R; 131 min.), directed by Ron Howard, written by Richard Price and Alexander Ignon, photographed by Piotr Sobocinski and starring Mel Gibson and Rene Russo.

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From the November 14-20, 1996 issue of Metro

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