By Barbara VanDenburgh | Gannett News Service
Few phrases prime for incredulity as effectively as “based on a true story.”
“Captive” is a skeptic’s nightmare the moment those words are paired with the act of a 12-step counselor extending a well-read paperback copy of Rick Warren’s 2002 best-seller “The Purpose Driven Life” to Ashley Smith (Kate Mara) the twitchy meth addict at the heart of what should be a riveting hostage situation. But believing what follows that fateful book lending requires a leap of faith beyond even Christ.
Ashley, as it happens, is in desperate need of some salvation. The single mother is struggling to kick her nasty addiction and regain custody of her young daughter. She snorts a line and settles in for a sleepless night of unpacking her new apartment, oblivious to the citywide manhunt for Brian Nichols (David Oyelowo), whose cold-blooded killing spree in an Atlanta courtroom had blanketed news stations all day.
On the verge of standing trial for rape, Brian assaults a police officer, taking her gun and killing four, then carjacks his way around the city, acts as violent as they are inexplicable. He’s tired, dirty and desperate when chance brings him to Ashley’s door. She’s an easy mark, and he forces his way into her apartment for the longest night of their lives.
It’s obvious what’s going to happen next, and not just because you might have seen the story on “Oprah” or read about it in the real-life Ashley Smith’s book about the encounter, “Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero.” It’s obvious because the film has telegraphed its intentions since that first portentous shot of “The Purpose Driven Life.”
Oyelowo and Mara try to bring humanity and tension to the testimonial thriller of two lost souls finding their way together, but they only succeed in bursts, hampered by marketing copy masquerading as dialogue. When Ashley cracks open the book for the first time and begins to read aloud about God’s plan for them, Brian scoffs, “That’s a bunch of church crap!”
“Captive” often sounds that scripted and stilted, feeling no more true despite its insistence to the contrary.
Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Jerry Jameson and written by Brian Bird, based on the Book “Unlikely Angel” by Ashley Smith with Stacy Mattingly. Running time: 97 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for mature thematic elements involving violence and substance abuse). Opens Friday at local theaters.