Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Gary Sinise, Delroy Lindo, Lili Taylor, Liev Schreiber, Brawley Nolte. (1996, R, 177 min.)

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Nov. 8, 1996

Your only son is kidnapped, the abductors demand a $2 million ransom, and you're filthy rich. So what do you do? If you're the protagonist Tom Mullen (Gibson) in Ransom, you do the only logical thing: You refuse to pay and, instead, place a bounty on the head of the man responsible for the heinous act. A reprehensible movie from just about every perspective, Ransom tries to justify the behavior of its lead character as something grounded in principle, but make no mistake about it: This is the act of a man who can't bear the thought of losing, a man who will turn the tables on his enemy at the risk of a beloved's death. It might be the stuff of the Old Testament, but as a contemporary thriller, this is one bitter pill to swallow. Furthermore, when it isn't confusing moral ambiguity with machismo, Ransom deals in stereotypes so laughably paranoiac of Generation X that you wonder if director Howard -- television's seminal hicktown youngster -- isn't still stuck in a Mayberry state of mind. It's easy to figure out who the bad guys are here -- they have tattoos, thrive on junk food, and listen to loud industrial music (composed and performed by Billy Corgan). Though Ransom makes veiled criticisms here and there of those who enjoy the privileged life, their impact is undermined by the film's depiction of the eventual rewards that such an existence brings, even if that involves bending the law when necessary. In other words, guess who you're supposed to root for as the hero? (Given some of Gibson's offscreen macho remarks and conduct the past few years, one wonders where the character begins and the actor ends.) And while the film's narrative makes a couple of interesting turns about two-thirds through, the irony of the kidnapper's role reversal in the end is as bad as a metaphor in an Alanis Morissette song. Still, even the most hackneyed of plot devices wouldn't overshadow the bad taste this movie's politics leaves in your mouth. But then again, in a day and age when the ethically challenged can become President, maybe there's nothing to get excited about here.

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Ransom, Ron Howard, Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Gary Sinise, Delroy Lindo, Lili Taylor, Liev Schreiber, Brawley Nolte

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