Joe Hickey (Kevin Bacon) has a pretty compelling plan for kidnapping rich kids: He takes them away from their families, gives the family twenty-four hours to pay a ransom, then returns the kid unharmed. The trick, of course, is to pick a rich family because they're always going to pay. The other trick is to avoid a money exchange because that's where kidnappers always get caught. Joe has his wife, Cheryl (Courtney Love), kidnap one parent while he takes the other and they organize a money transfer that doesn't involve a drop.
Unfortunately, Joe has never met a family like the Jennings, comprised of a husband, Dr. Will (Stuart Townsend), wife, Karen (Cheryl Hickey), and daughter, Abby (Dakota Fanning), with so much untapped energy for scheming they're like the FBI's poster family for kidnapping preparedness. They've read all the manuals. They've worked out all the scenarios. Do anything bad to the Jennings and you'll be begging them to let YOU go.
Joe takes little Abby and gives her to Marvin (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who then takes her to a remote location. If Joe doesn't call Marvin every half hour, Marvin is supposed to kill little Abby. Joe tells Karen this so that she doesn't try anything dumb, only Karen tries dumb things over and over again while Joe threatens to kill Abby over and over again. Complicating things is the fact that Abby has the same breathing problem as that the kid in "Panic Room," which means that if she doesn't get her medicine, she'll die long before Joe gets his ransom.
I was particularly fond of Marvin, who has one of those nervous tics that one associates with ripping the heads off dolls and is exactly the kind of guy you want placating a young child who's in an alien environment without her parents for the first time in her life. Abby screams for her mommy and Marvin starts rocking back and forth and speaking in tongues. Joe, on the other hand, puts his victims at ease by emphasizing that his record of pulling off kidnappings without killing anyone is darn near 80%.
Meanwhile, Cheryl holds Dr. Will at gunpoint only to end up on the wrong end of a needle full of poison because Dr. Will has the same scheming gene that Karen and Abby have. Karen spends her time as a hostage figuring out a way to slice up Joe. Despite much whining and doll squeezing, little Abby finds a way to run from the house when Marvin isn't looking. As a result, I never got the sense that the Jennings were trapped. Me, on the other hand, now that's a different story.
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