Movie Review - 'Ransom'

Review 'Ransom' captivating
Intelligent thriller grabs viewer and doesn't let go

BY MARGARET A. McGURK
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Can we all agree that Ransom has been hyped to the brink of death? Won't we double up in pain if we have to see one more of those ''Give me back my son!'' commercials?

Now the movie finally has opened and it turns out to be a darn good thriller, impaired chiefly by the fact that some of its emotional peaks have been worn smooth by over-exposure.

Director Ron Howard knows how to spin a yarn, and in this case he has a cracking good script by Richard Price (Clockers) and Alexander Ignon, based loosely on a 1956 Glenn Ford thriller of the same name.

He also has the talents of Mel Gibson and Rene Russo as Tom and Kate Mullen, parents whose millions can't guarantee the safe return of their kidnapped son (Brawley Nolte).

They are surrounded by a sterling supporting cast, including Delroy Lindo as an FBI agent, the always complex Lili Taylor as a kidnapper, and a bone-chilling Gary Sinise in a key role as a New York City detective.

Tom Mullen is the big dog in this victim-strikes-back story, and Mr. Gibson plays him with full-bodied anguish. He is, oddly enough, even more sympathetic because his apparent heroism is tinged with moral ambiguity.

Nobody is the flawless idol that Tom seems to be at first glance. The gap between the storybook square-shooter and his guilt-ridden private self drives Tom to seize control of the nightmare. It also gives him a humanity that makes the wait for his son's rescue a harrowing emotional experience.

And ''harrowing'' is the word. Mr. Howard uses almost everything in a scene to ratchet the suspense skyward - for instance, the nerve-wracking music in the kidnappers' lair was written expressly for the film by Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins. Even when we know what happens next, the tension mounts.

In a better world, the parent-kidnapper war could end without as much gory violence as Ransom uses - the big, blood-soaked finale seems to go on forever. And, in a better world, fewer surprises intended for the movie theater would have been squandered on television ads.

Still, Ransom is a winner, an intelligent suspense yarn from some of filmdom's most skilled practitioners.

IF YOU GO:

Ransom

3 1/2 stars

(R; strong profanity, violence, brief nudity) Mel Gibson, Gary Sinise, Rene Russo. 121 minutes. At National Amusements, Danbarry Cinemas.