Monday, December 30, 2019

Hostile Takeover (1988)

... aka: Devastator, The
... aka: Noite dos Reféns (Hostages Night)
... aka: Office Party
... aka: Office Party - Geiselnahme im Büro (Office Party: Hostage in the Office)
... aka: Secuestro en la oficina (Office Kidnapping)
... aka: Sindrome implacable (Restless Syndrome)

Directed by:
George Mihalka

Eugene Brackin (David Warner) is polite, mind-mannered and honest, a very hard worker and the exact type of guy the phrase "He wouldn't even hurt a fly" was coined for. He's even volunteered to go into the office on a Saturday while most of his other colleagues are enjoying their weekend, only this time he's brought along a suitcase. He tells his attractive-and-she-knows-it young coworker, Sally (Kate Vernon), that he's going on a small trip once he leaves there. Another of his colleagues, Joan (Jayne Eastwood), can't help but brag about how much she respects Eugene and his work ethic. Larry Gaylord (Michael Ironside), who manages the office, doesn't even seem to notice as he's too busy making passes at the disinterested Sally, who scoots away from him and motions to the framed photo of Larry's wife on the desk to get him to stop. The four work until nightfall. As they grab their coats, turn off the lights and prepare to leave, they realize someone's put a bike lock on the door. Before they can make heads or tails of the situation, Eugene's suitcase is opened. Inside are guns and handcuffs. He's also thrown away the key to the lock. After cuffing everyone to chairs, Eugene offers up no answers to any of their questions. He won't tell them why he's taking them hostage or even how long he plans of keeping them there. He doesn't want money. He promises not to kill anybody. And he's not trying to make any kind of political statement. The only hint he ever drops is his insistence that "the circle must be completed."

There seems to be little rhyme or reason behind Eugene's actions. When Joan's husband calls looking for her, Eugene flat out tells him he's holding her hostage, recommends he call the police and recommends the police not get too close to the building or else he's firing. Cops quickly arrive at the scene and don't heed the warning. Eugene opens fire and blows a van up. More police, led by put-upon police chief Greg Smolen (Will Lyman), show up and surround the building. Smolen frequently talks to Eugene on the phone but is unable to pry anything useful out of him nor get him to agree to cooperate with the authorities. However, he senses this is a unique situation that may go against usual police protocol. Mayor Steve (John Vernon) also turns up but he's mostly worried about losing votes in an upcoming election and what this little stunt is going to cost the city.

Eugene has childhood flashbacks where his sadistic father chases him around in the woods with a rifle, orders him to "Bark like a dog!" and calls him a "spineless little prick!" Larry has a dream he shoots Eugene in the head and becomes the hero while Sally has a flashback to arguing with the vice president of the company, who promised her the managerial position but then gave it to Larry instead. She believes that was due to sexism while Larry accuses her of trying to sleep her way to the top, which is possible considering she and the v.p. were lovers. We also learn a bit more about Joan, who was a chance-taking feminist in her youth before settling into her current ordinary, ordered life. Still, she's haunted by an illegal abortion she had when she was younger which has left her unable to have children.

Tensions mount on the ground as disagreements about how to handle the situation form. Smolen believes the situation can be resolved without resorting to violence, while the impatient Mayor wants to resolve the crisis a.s.a.p. even if that means a few lives are lost in the process. He recommends Smolen "stop mollycoddling that asshole!" and brings in gung ho special weapons and tactics expert Lieutenant Garlis (Anthony Sherwood), whom Smolen describes as "a redneck trapped in a black man's body." It's clear the two won't be able to work together, especially when Garlis gives an unflattering press interview that angers Brackin and then places a marksman on a roof without the police chief's knowledge. In an effort to try to win back Brackin's trust, Smolen even tells him about the sniper and to stay away from the windows. Can this dire situation possibly be resolved without anyone dying?

This truly bizarre, but quite originally presented, little psychological drama came and went without much fanfare in the 80s but it's worth a look. Most of the film takes place in a drab and nearly empty third floor office room, but the director manages to dress things up nicely utilizing color, surreal flourishes, black comedy and horror imagery. Each of the office workers and the main cop are given character building moments here that are achieved not only through the dialogue but flashbacks, nightmares, hallucinations and poetic voice-overs. During one scene, Larry envisions his wife fucking the company president on the floor in the middle of a party. The cop delivers an eloquent monologue as he steps around faceless, bloody bodies, which is strikingly captured via a long tracking shot looking up through a glass table. Moments like these keep this from devolving into a routine hostage thriller. There's a decent amount of blood, a bit of sex and even some office politics thrown in for good measure.

Alas, it's not all good news. Something clearly got fucked up with the sound during production. While some of the dialogue seems to have been recorded during filming, much of the rest was poorly looped in later. That results in a lot of wonky and unintentionally funny ADR, which is especially evident during the scenes with the police. Some of the police dialogue is terrible, too. You can tell they intended it to sound bad ass and hard-edged, but it just comes off as hokey most of the time. A good primary cast helps to alleviate some of those issues. Warner and Ironside have both made careers out of playing assorted weirdos, crazies and bad guys, so their roles as the motiveless hostage taker and the corporate asshole fit both like a glove. John Vernon is the other big name and gets typecast yet again as a foul-mouthed ("Show some fuckin' decorum!") pushy jerk, but that's why we love him, right? Veteran character actress Eastwood is good as per usual and newcomer Kate Vernon (John's real-life daughter) is adequate.

Based on Michae A. Gilbert's novel Office Party, which was also one of several alternative titles (the one I watched was called The Devastator). Mihalka is best know for the popular 80s slasher flick MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981). He also made the interesting astral projection film Eternal Evil (1985), The Psychic (1991) and Relative Fear (1994). Billy Bryans and Aaron Davis received a Genie Award nomination for their score.

Filmed in Toronto, this played theatrically in Canada in 1989 before being issued on home video. Here in the U.S. it was released on VHS under several different titles. There's been no DVD release as of this writing.

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