TERRY THORNE is the perfect movie hero. As played by Gladiator-buffed Russell Crowe, he's a former military intelligence officer who recovers business executives kidnapped by

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Man of action falls for damsel in distress.

TERRY THORNE is the perfect movie hero. As played by Gladiator-buffed Russell Crowe, he's a former military intelligence officer who recovers business executives kidnapped by terrorists practicing their own form of venture capital funding. Steady, steely, soulful, and nearly bulletproof, there's no doubt—even as he missteps during a job in Chechnya—that he'll succeed. Thorne may be playing in the most tense and uncertain of games, but you trust he will never, ever fail.

PROOF OF LIFE

directed by Taylor Hackford with Meg Ryan, Russell Crowe, and David Morse opens December 8 at Meridian, Neptune, Oak Tree, and other theaters

This is one of the paradoxes about Proof of Life that makes the film both exciting and obvious, the kind of political action thriller that keeps its attractive stars risk-free in a perfunctory manner. In a fictional South-American country, Thorne's assignment is to rescue an American engineer (Dancer in the Dark's David Morse). Complicating matters, the abductee hasn't been getting along with his wife, Alice (Meg Ryan), and his company's kidnapping insurance has lapsed. No money means no negotiating, so Thorne packs up and leaves Alice to her own nervous devices. Guilt and the goodness of his heart bring him back, however, which feeds Alice's growing attraction to this willing and able savior.

Inspired by a 1998 Vanity Fair story and recent book, Proof shrewdly uses the "K&R" industry to comment on the inequities of globalization and present a new model action hero for that same divided climate. The actors also excel in these circumstances; Crowe's Thorne is a go-to guy whose still waters run deep. Meanwhile, in scenes that seem truly dangerous, Morse's transformation from kidnap victim to resourceful survivor is intensely etched. As Thorne's K&R colleague, TV's David Caruso also provides a certain clubhouse camaraderie and humor needed for the last act's war game antics.

Oddly, given the tabloid context of the now fizzled Ryan-Crowe romance, Alice is almost a distraction in Proof, which ought to benefit from such notoriety. At the risk of implying the picture would've been better left to the boys, Ryan is hindered by the emotional mass she has to carry. Likewise, it's a strange choice to keep her lipstick perfect and her wardrobe pressed. Presumably this indicates her pampered social position in a Third-World country. Yet catering to her movie star commercial appeal sweeps away Ryan's needed share of grit. (By contrast, recall Kathleen Turner's rough-and-tumble heroine in Romancing the Stone.)

Despite its potential for action and romance, Proof's payoff is held hostage by the terrorists of marketing.

 
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