Emotional `Ransom' -- Mel Gibson On Fast Boil In Remake Of '50S Thriller

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XXX "Ransom," with Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Gary Sinise, Lili Taylor, Delroy Lindo. Directed by Ron Howard, from a script by Richard Price and Alexander Ignon, based on a story by Cyril Hume and Richard Maibaum. Alderwood, Bella Bottega 7, Broadway Market, Chalet, Crossroads, Everett Mall 1-3, Everett Mall 4-10, Factoria, Gateway, Issaquah 9, Kent 6, Kirkland Parkplace, Metro, Mountlake 9, Northgate, Parkway Plaza, Puyallup 6, Snohomish. "R" - Restricted because of graphic, bloody violence and strong language. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Mel Gibson and Rene Russo put an edgy 1990s spin on the roles originally played by Glenn Ford and Donna Reed in this big-budget Disney remake of MGM's 1955 thriller "Ransom."

It's the story of a kidnapped child whose parents differ radically on how to deal with ransom demands. As in the original, the mother is ready to pay any price. The father, assuming that the kidnappers will almost certainly kill the boy (Brawley Nolte, Nick Nolte's son) if they pay in cash, gambles and offers the ransom as reward money. He assumes they will let the boy go rather than be hunted.

As Gibson plays him, Tom Mullen is a powerful businessman who is under investigation for bribery. He is driven by his need for control over the situation, just as he was driven to defeat a machinists' union that threatened a strike. The kidnapping doesn't just pose an ethical dilemma; it's partly about who's in control, and it can be seen as a macho contest between Mullen and Jimmy Shaker (Gary Sinise), the crooked cop who's behind the kidnapping.

This motivation is emphasized in the new version, especially in the debates between Mullen and Shaker, who sees the crime as a form of class struggle. Mullen starts calling him "Morlock Man" because Shaker claims to identify with the Morlocks, the slave-like cannibals in H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" who surfaced only to kidnap and devour the peaceful, pampered Elois.

The original "Ransom," directed by the late Alex Segal and written by Cyril Hume and Richard Maibaum (both deceased writers get a story credit on this remake), is not available on videotape and it's rarely shown on television (it began as a television play). It was the fourth movie Ford had turned out for MGM in one year, and film historian Leslie Halliwell noted that it was "virtually a vehicle for a star at his twitchiest and most dogged."

Gibson hasn't been quite that busy, but he matches Ford's intensity, especially when his wife seems to abandon him, their FBI adviser (Delroy Lindo) tries to talk him out of his ploy, and for one horrible moment it appears that he's lost his gamble. Gibson hasn't given such an emotion-drenched performance since he played the howling-mad Fletcher Christian in "The Bounty" a dozen years ago. He never holds back.

To its credit, the new "Ransom" doesn't make a conventional hero out of Mullen, who lies to his wife and the FBI and creates a slickly deceptive media image for himself. Shaker's political arguments are not treated with much sympathy either, nor are his accomplices: an amoral Bronx woman (Lili Taylor) who wants to kill the boy, a computer expert (Evan Handler), a helpless ex-con (Liev Schreiber from "Walking and Talking") and his brother (Donnie Wahlberg of New Kids on the Block).

Screenwriters Richard Price ("Clockers") and Alexander Ignon (this is his first produced script) go to some trouble to present both sides of the argument, while clearly allying themselves with Mullen and his wife, who are ultimately reduced to terrified parents seeking only the deliverance of their child.

The director, Ron Howard, is best-known for feel-good movies ("Splash," "Cocoon"), but "Ransom" isn't one of them. Aside from an unnecessary but seemingly mandatory over-the-top finale (the dire influence of "Fatal Attraction" is once more felt), he deals thoughtfully here with adult emotions and ambiguities.