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Hostile Takeover
(a.k.a. The Devastator & The Office Party)
(1988)

Director: George Mihalka  
Cast:
David Warner, Michael Ironside, Kate Vernon


I'm not one of those people who thinks that bad things always happen to other people. I know from experience that bad things can happen to you, no matter how stable and safe your life may seem to be. So when I come across some tips as to what to do during an emergency, you can be sure that I read and remember what's written. If my building were to catch on fire, for example, I would stay close to the floor and feel my door before opening it so I'd know if there's a fire right outside my door. And if I were to bump into a cougar in the woods, I would not look it in the eye, and I would slowly back away. There is one emergency that I have to admit that I have no idea as to what to do, and that is when (not if) an earthquake hits my area, which is long overdue for one. I have prepared for the aftermath of an earthquake - I have several bottles of water under my sink, plus a number of cans of food in my cupboards - but I am not sure as to what to do during an earthquake. Ever since I was a child, I heard that the best way to get through an earthquake is to get under something - a desk, or a doorway. Yet recently, I read the accounts of an earthquake rescue worker who said that doing so would be a mistake, because he personally had recovered from the rubble of buildings the bodies of people who took shelter under doorways and desks, and got crushed. He actually said that the best thing to do during an earthquake was to duck and cover beside desks and doorways. That didn't make much sense to me when I read it, even though this person claimed that he had all this experience with earthquakes. So what's the best thing to do? I don't know about you, but I plan to do nothing during an earthquake, because I just remembered that my building was built to be earthquake-resistant.

You can be sure that if there's an emergency situation that could possibly happen to me, I have made plans as to what I should do to escape as unscathed as possible. In fact, I am so concerned about my safety, I have even done research on emergency situations that you might think could never happen to me - you never know what situation you will get into in the future, and it's better to be safe than sorry. One potentially dangerous situation I have boned up on is being held hostage by some crazed and armed individual. Over the years, I have seen and read about plenty of hostage situations happening in real life, and the accounts of these situations have given my plenty of tips as to what I should do if I find myself in one. Much of what I have learned to do is stuff that is pretty logical. For example, you should try to do everything that the hostage taker tells you to do - if you are cooperative, it is more likely that the hostage taker won't take any bad actions towards you. You should also not say anything to the hostage taker that might get him angry, so no arguing or insulting remarks to them. In fact, you should try to more or less suggest to the hostage taker that you are on their side, so saying anything positive towards them will no doubt help the cause of you and your fellow hostages. And if you are thinking of trying to escape from your predicament, you should think it thoroughly before actually doing so. After all, a bullet fired from a gun travels at a much faster speed than someone who is running away as fast as they can. You might want to wait for the police to act, since they are the real experts on how to diffuse a hostage situation.

I have to admit that when it comes to movies that deal with hostage situations, I am kind of a sucker for them. When I watch such movies, I place myself with the hostages in the movies. Hostile TakeoverI keep thinking of what I would do if I were one of the hostages in the movies, and as the events of the movie go forward, I get to see whether my actions would have been the right or wrong things to do. But that's not the only reason why I like to watch hostage movies. I also like to watch these movies because I like to identify with the hostage taker. I like to think of what I would do and say if I were the one holding the gun, and see if my actions would have helped prolong the situation or cut it shorter. It's good practice for when I eventually go crazy from watching too many bad movies. So the hostage drama Hostile Takeover seemed like the perfect education film for me when I found it, especially since its Canadian origin would hit closer to home. Despite its Canadian origin, the movie takes place in (you guessed it) the United States, in some unidentified city. On a Saturday morning, office worker Eugene Brackin (Warner, Tron) leaves home for work, having previously promised to work during his weekend. There are only three other people at work that day: Eugene's boss Larry (Ironside, Neon City), and two of Eugene's co-workers, Sally (Vernon, Battlestar Galactica) and Joan (Jayne Eastwood, My Big Fat Greek Wedding). When it's five o'clock, everyone is ready to go home... except Eugene. Eugene locks the one door out of the office, pulls out some guns from a suitcase he took to work, and makes clear that no one is going anywhere. It's now a hostage situation, and it doesn't take long for the police to arrive outside. A cop named Smolen (Will Lyman) takes charge of the situation, but he soon finds out that it's going to be tough to defuse the situation, because Eugene repeatedly refuses to explain to Smolen why he has taken hostages, and also refuses to tell the hostages themselves. Can anyone crack through Eugene's stubbornness before someone gets hurt?

If you have seen as many hostage-taking movies and television shows as I have, you probably have in your mind confidence as to what subsequently happens. You might think that Eugene becomes a madman of sorts, placing a lot of crazy energy in his actions. You might also think that there are plenty of action sequences, with Eugene successfully fighting off the cops every few minutes or so. Well, I am here to tell you that what you are expecting with Hostile Takeover is almost certainly a lot different than what actually happens. Much of what happens in the movie certainly wasn't what I was expecting. There is very little in the movie that would be considered "action". And the little action there is in the movie is not presented in a way that would thrill an audience. When Eugene fires some shots at the approaching police and blows up a police van, he subsequently asks Smolen on the telephone in a regretful tone, "I didn't hurt anyone, did I?" Eugene's subsequent actions further demonstrate that this movie is not dealing with your standard hostage taker. For example, the first demand he makes to the police is to bring dinner for him and his hostages - and he takes the time to ask his hostages what they would like to eat. After dinner, instead of making his chained-up hostages stay up all night, he makes arrangements for his hostages to lie down and sleep in different parts of the office, giving extra attention to the ladies because they are ladies. And the next morning, Eugene is certain that everyone gets breakfast to eat. While Eugene may be a criminal, he is clearly not without humanity, and I found this made him more interesting than your typical lunatic hostage taker. He interested me, and I wanted to see what was driving this shy, meek man into doing something that would almost certainly have dire consequences for him.

And just why did Eugene take a couple of guns to work and take his co-workers hostage? Actually, the movie never actually gives us a blatant explanation. I am certain that some viewers, viewers who like to have everything clearly spelled out for them when they watch a movie, will be frustrated and not like Hostile Takeover. But the movie does give viewers a few subtle clues at to what's going on in Eugene's mind, and by the end of the movie I think I had a pretty good idea about Eugene's motivations (though what they are, I won't say, and I'll leave you to figure it out.) This movie has a very smart screenplay. It knows that life often does not have blatant expectations come from people. This screenplay depicts people acting in a crisis in a way I think is more realistic than many other movies. This includes the movie's hostages. While many hostage movies give more focus to the hostage taker than the hostages, this movie gives a great deal of time to develop the characters of the hostages. When Eugene first takes them hostage, they are a little stunned, yes, but surprisingly calm. After all, Eugene is someone they have been working well with for years, and they are still remembering this even when he chains them up. Joan even takes the time at one point to fix the makeup on her face. Later in the movie, we learn much about the pasts of the hostages, details that do not always make them likable and sympathetic figures, but details that make them real flesh and blood figures instead of stock characters. As a result, I was really interested to see if any (or all) of them would get out of the explosive situation safely or not.

It also helps that all the principle actors in the movie give great performances; they take these well-written characters and really sell them to the audience. Warner has a bit less dialogue than you might think, but he manages to make his character kind of a sad one, one you might find yourself sympathizing with despite his actions. Ironside, well known for playing hard-asses and villains, is cast against type here. Here he plays a meeker figure, one that is (among other things) secretly a lecher, and I think he does as well here as he does playing bad guys. Actor John Vernon (father of Kate Vernon) also appears, playing the city's major who demands the situation be quickly extinguished. But his appearances are completely gratuitous; there seems to be no reason why the movie features his character. That is not the only thing I thought didn't work well in Hostile Takeover. While the movie generally gets away with having a low budget (since almost all of the movie takes place in one location), there are a few technical flaws, like improper lighting of scenes or badly dubbed-in dialogue at several points. And while the movie is generally well-scripted, the last part of the movie does falter somewhat, with the hostages given so much focus that the plight of Eugene is put on the backburner. But be patient at this part of the movie, because in the movie's final few minutes, you will be rewarded with one of the most spectacular gun wounds I have ever seen in a motion picture. It doesn't matter who gets shot - the moment is so splattery that my jaw dropped at the sight of all that blood. Of course, I can't recommend a movie simply for a spectacular gunshot, but fortunately there's enough other good stuff in Hostile Takeover that I can definitely recommend you seek it out.

Check for availaiblity on Amazon (VHS)
Check Amazon for availability of source novel by Michael Gilbert

See also: Baker County U.S.A., City On Fire, Tomorrow Never Comes

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