November 18, 1996 12:00 PM

Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Gary Sinise

A slick, slam-bang thriller about a business tycoon’s frenzied efforts to get back his kidnapped son, Ransom is meant to divert and entertain. It does. This is a confident piece of commercial filmmaking, but when the final credits roll, you’ll wonder if director Ron Howard and the screenwriters couldn’t have tried a wee bit harder to give the characters as much dimension as the chase scenes.

Gibson plays the swaggering businessman whose 9-year-old son (Brawley Nolte, son of Nick) is kidnapped by an envious cop (Sinise) and a quartet of low-life cronies. The kidnappers demand $2 million in ransom, though it’s clear from the get-go that they intend to kill the boy—”I’ll gut this kid like a fish,” Sinise snarls—after getting their money. Sensing this after an initial payoff attempt is botched due to FBI interference, Gibson turns the tables, going on TV to tell the kidnappers that if they don’t immediately hand over his son gratis, he’ll pay the $2 million to anyone who can finger the abductors.

Gibson is brashly charismatic here, but he’s not doing anything he hasn’t done before. This role is his hothead Lethal Weapon cop gussied up with cashmere sweaters, a penthouse apartment and family values. Russo, playing his wife, lends able support but has little to do besides look fretful about her son or peeved at Gibson for refusing to pay the ransom. As the villain, Sinise is a geeky disappointment. You want this character to be either a raving lunatic or a really wrathful genius, not just a resentful, underpaid cop having a bad day. (R)

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