In Latin America, the incidence of kidnappings is at an all-time high, with gangs bundling their victims off the streets and into the back of cars with frightening regularity, then demanding huge ransoms to ensure they are brought back alive, though in one in seven cases that does not turn out to be so. This is making the need for bodyguards more pressing than ever, and John Creasy (Denzel Washington) might be a strong candidate for this lucrative work in light of his background in special operations in shady set-ups as he discusses with his good friend Rayburn (Christopher Walken) who can sort something out for him in Mexico City. Besides, Creasy needs to get his head together after a recent trauma...
So it is ironic that this new job will be, if anything, even more traumatic than whatever he has left behind in the second filming of A.J. Quinnell's novel, the first one being a lower budget Scott Glenn vehicle from 1987. That made minimal ripples in the pond of movie releases back then, but this re-teaming of Washington with director Tony Scott, who had worked together on submarine thriller Crimson Tide before this, was a fair-sized hit and became something of a cult item among those who liked their thrillers flashy: if you wanted flash, then Scott was your man. Here he approximated the hero's mental anguish with a lot of fancy cuts, a jumping frame, superimpositions, and a method of making the Spanish dialogue interesting with snazzy subtitles.
If a pretty basic plot about a kidnapping in Mexico really needed that, then it certainly dressed up the proceedings with an up to the minute sense of vitality, no matter that Creasy was feeling anything but vital for most of the movie. But who was going to be kidnapped? It wasn't him, so you could accurately predict it would be the person Creasy was acting as bodyguard to, who turns out not to be Whitney Houston or someone like that, but a little girl called Pita (which sounds like they're calling her Peter, but it's short for Lupita, apparently) played by moppet of the day Dakota Fanning. She was the nine-year-old daughter of businessman Ramos (Marc Anthony) and his wife Lisa (Radha Mitchell), and this man is all they can afford, aware of his drawbacks.
There then follows over half an hour of bigging up Pita as the most precious little bundle of self-possessed fun on Earth where the initially gruff Creasy melts in her presence and helps her with her swimming lessons, which is laying it on a bit thick as any child who was kidnapped would be a cause for concern to a reasonable person and we did not really need this in-depth connection inviting us to get gooey-eyed over Dakota. It's not a complete waste of time, but did point to the schmaltz that was looming come the actual finale, which was still an overextended two hours away, Scott and writer Brian Helgeland getting far too indulgent, especially for an action flick where most people would be impatiently waiting for Denzel to start booting bottom. So when Pita is finally abducted, it's not a relief exactly, but it was a sign the plot was beginning at last.
Creasy, we can tell from how he comports himself over the search for Pita, is not a nice man no matter that he has been all fatherly towards the girl in a way it is suggested her actual father has not been, but once it's time to start chopping off gangsters' fingers or placing explosives up their rectum and blowing them up (really) then what we had was a curiously divided experience. First there was the sentimentality, then there was the vengeance and explosion-heavy violence, and they made for a brew that was hard to swallow unless you already believed fighting bad guys with even more bloodthirsty good guys was the way to solve the world's problems. Through it all, Washington held what was preposterous in many ways together with his composure and hints at a troubled mind that made Creasy's extreme reactions believable, though the supporting cast, including Mickey Rourke as a lawyer and Rachel Ticotin as a journalist, were mostly cyphers, none more so than the one-dimensional evildoers. But if you liked this, you got a lot of it to like. Music by Harry Gregson-Williams.
British-born director Tony Scott was the brother of director Ridley Scott and worked closely with him in their production company for film and television, both having made their names in the advertising business before moving onto glossy features for cinema. He shocked Hollywood by committing suicide by jumping from a bridge in Los Angeles for reasons that were never disclosed.