PROOF OF LIFE directed by Taylor Hackford, written by Tony Gilroy, produced by Hackford and Charles Mulvehill, with Meg Ryan, Russell Crowe, David Morse, David Caruso and Pamela Reed. A Castle Rock production. A Warner Brothers release. 135 minutes. Opens Friday (December 8). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 97. Rating: NN Rating: NNNNN
Russell Crowe is our bogart now. He's Hollywood's only man's man under 40, and the one star who's made a virtue of humourlessness. Crowe can plant his feet in a movie and make the whole world come to him. Meg Ryan gets top billing in Proof Of Life. It's her character's story, but it's Crowe's film. If it were a whole lot better, it could have been his Casablanca.
He plays Terry Thorne, a kidnap and ransom expert who makes his living rescuing hostages for a British insurance company.
Ryan is Alice Bowman, wife of an American engineer who's been captured in a mythical South American country by a band of mercenary radicals -- also mythical, but suspiciously close to Peru's Shining Path.
Thorne gets assigned to Bowman's case, and soon notices that she's a gorgeous, spunky woman with a dazzling designer mane. But when his insurance company pulls out, he's got to decide whether to stick his neck out to win her back her husband.
Proof Of Life is based on William Prochnau's 1998 Vanity Fair article and Thomas Hargrove's book Long March To Freedom.
The story's raw material is fascinating. And, for a while, Crowe even manages to make long, procedural speeches about the insurance business sound gripping.
But it feels like director Taylor Hackford can't keep his mind on the movie.
One solid dramatic scene is followed by acres of hack work. The hostage crisis gets less and less involving as the story proceeds.
Proof Of Life is doomed to be remembered as the film where Russell met Meg. As a beefcake bonanza, it's no Gladiator.
And for anyone who loves watching Meg Ryan do that thing with her arms when she's really, really upset -- well, it's no When A Man Loves A Woman.