Set in Canada and based on Michael A. Gilbert's novel Office Party, HOSTILE TAKEOVER is too slackly directed to take full advantage of some promisingly bizarre situations. Nonetheless, HOSTILE TAKEOVER manages to keep its grip on viewers through a solid basic plot. Eugene Bracken (David
Warner), a milquetoast office worker, plans a surprise for the Saturday overtime shift he's working with domineering boss Larry Gaylord (Michael Ironside), hot-to-trot coworker Sally Ladd (Kate Vernon), and outwardly placid secretary Mrs. Talmadge (Jayne Eastwood). Although nice-guy Eugene has
never previously shown any noticeable symptoms of psychosis, he has decided to take over the office and hold his coworkers hostage. Eugene is motivated not by politics, nor by monetary gain, nor grievances against the company, but simply wants to call the shots himself for a few choice days.
Flashbacks reveal that he has suffered at the hands of an abusive, militaristic father, and before this harrowing weekend is over, his captive coworkers will reveal some secrets of their own as a result of the pressure. While civic and police forces outside try to placate him, Eugene enjoys being
in charge. Unfortunately, the town's mayor (John Vernon) opposes a plan by the police chief (Will Lyman) to appease the hostage-taker, and instead instructs a SWAT team leader to blow Eugene away if given a chance to do so. As tension builds in this Canadian version of a Mexican stand off, Eugene
angrily shoots Larry's chair out from under him and then humiliates Mrs. Talmadge, forcing the secretary--who has slapped his face in her emotional distress--to strip to her underwear. After this incident, the captives realize that Eugene's the boss, even as they consider escape possibilities.
Constantly muttering that "the circle is closing," Eugene is enraged when a radio report brands him a maniac. As the weekend continues, it is revealed that Sally has had sexual relations with a company big-wig and resents having been passed over for the position given to Larry. While Eugene
stymies any police move to end his siege, the women hostages discuss office politics and sexism, Mrs. Talmadge confiding to Sally that she had an abortion as a teenager. When the secretary remains in the ladies room too long, Eugene bursts inside the restroom's door, but the other hostages don't
have time to grab the weapon he leaves behind. Picking up clues from their phone conversations, the police chief realizes that Eugene has been making references to T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men"; inside, as the hostages attempt to get their poetry-quoting captor intoxicated, the "office party"
shifts into high gear, with drinking and wild dancing. Tempers flare when Sally hints that Larry makes his wife sleep with other executives to facilitate his corporate rise; she even threatens to castrate him with scissors, but stops when Mrs. Talmadge vomits all over the intended victim. Angered
by her accusations, Larry becomes unhinged after watching Sally seduce Eugene. Going off the deep end, he attacks Sally, and is shot to death by Eugene. Crazed by her ordeal and this killing, Mrs. Talmadge believes she is back in high school and somersaults out of the window. Realizing that his
power has slipped away from him, Eugene stands at the window and allows himself to be shot. The office party is over, and three people are dead.
HOSTILE TAKEOVER's intriguing central situation and complex psychological power games might have resulted in a top-notch thriller if George Mihalka's direction weren't so plodding. It's also obvious that Gilbert and Stephen Zoller, the screenwriters, would have liked to squeeze in more material
concerning the characters' pasts as a means of fleshing out the frustration that links the captives and their captor, a tactic that both enhances and detracts from the film's effectiveness. Although the flashbacks and surreal dream sequences are easily the most arresting passages in the film,
HOSTILE TAKEOVER generally captures the hard feelings that exist in the competitive corporate world--the rampant sexism, the buzz of white-collar drones worked to death and then replaced, and the screw-or-be-screwed office politics, with their sexual implications. But the film fails to build
momentum and create a sufficient level of suspense because it bogs down in plot exposition and character background, cutting away for character revelations when it should be detailing escape attempts or showing more concrete evidence of Eugene's obsession. Thrillers often give short shrift to
developing motivation, but HOSTILE TAKEOVER errs in correcting this oversight by failing to provide the requisite thriller tautness. Especially damaging is the filmmakers' habit of cutting away from the hostages to show the infighting and problems of the cops and city officials handling the
crisis. The cross-cutting is not sufficiently acute to build much tension, and distracts from the crescendo of violence brewing in the office, which is the real source of the film's suspense.
Only in fits and starts does HOSTILE TAKEOVER succeed. While Warner is only adequate as the power-hungry terrorist, Ironside, Eastwood, and Kate Vernon are exemplary as the walking wounded who are taken hostage. As these three actors bait one other or break down in confessions, we glimpse the
powerhouse movie this misfired thriller might have been. Potentially powerful subject matter--with its subtext of contemporary violence and worker alienation--comes to life in spurts. Though sporadic, the emotional excitement in HOSTILE TAKEOVER makes this flawed film far from negligible. (Sexualsituations, violence, substance abuse, profanity, nudity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: R
- Review: Set in Canada and based on Michael A. Gilbert's novel Office Party, HOSTILE TAKEOVER is too slackly directed to take full advantage of some promisingly bizarre situations. Nonetheless, HOSTILE TAKEOVER manages to keep its grip on viewers through a solid ba… (more)