(In theaters, December 2000) The true test of a movie star is to watch said performer struggle in an average film. Here, Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan have to contend with an efficient, but hardly exceptional script, and only one of them rises above the material. It’s not Ryan, who seems miscast and ill-defined as “the wife” character. Crowe fares much better as a top-notch ransom negotiator, clearly showing why more and more people are calling him a genuine leading man. The rest of film is hit and miss: The cinematography gets a lot of mileage out of its lush South-American locale. The script contains both good moments (good opening, good conclusion and good technical details about the ransom business) and not-so-good moments. (The extraordinary coincidence that precipitates the film’s third act is almost unforgivable) It should be noted, however, that the film clearly shows excessive cutting room rethinking: While it’s refreshing to see that the romantic angle is barely mentioned, its half-hearted inclusion creates a few puzzling moments if not outright howlers, such as “Do you love this woman?” suddenly coming out of nowhere. The DVD version should be interesting to examine. Otherwise, David Caruso is sympathetic in a supporting role, the film plays better than expected, and Russell Crowe’s performance, again, is worth watching.