Directed by Taylor Hackford, starring Russell Crowe, Meg Ryan and David Morse.

With all the hype and acres of copy, it's easy to forget that there was actually a film behind the offscreen relationship between Russell Crowe and his co-star Meg Ryan. But by the closing credits of 'Proof of Life' nothing has been done to make you remember that fact any more clearly.

Ryan plays Alice Bowman, a disillusioned corporate wife whose engineer husband David (Morse) has brought her to the fictional South American country of Tecala. This being a right-on Hollywood outing, David isn't a money-grabbing blow-in, he's building a dam which he feels will benefit the locals but which his oil company employers know will speed up progress on their pipeline. After a tense 'what about me?' session between husband and wife, David is kidnapped one morning by a gang of doped-to-the-ski-masks revolutionaries called the ELT, who claim to be freeing their people from oppression but are more interested in getting wealthy Americans hooked on their top quality marching powder. Enter Terry Thorne (Crowe), a 1,000 yard stare hostage negotiator sent to retrieve David for the oil barons at a knockdown price. From the outset it's clear that Terry is also a man with a conscience (he even goes to see his son playing rugby before heading off to South America) and when corporate politics force his company to withdraw from ransom talks, he goes solo and offers to help Alice find her husband.

While it never descends into 'A-Team' dynamics or rolls around in missed heartbeat slush, 'Proof of Life' fails to fulfil as either a shoot-'em-up or romance. There's just a terrible certainty about it, you know from the minute Crowe clears passport control in South America that the plot is on autopilot and that everything will be all right. The negotiations, while engaging, allow way too much time for Ryan to stare in a 'how does he do it?' way at Crowe and, as a result, neglect the far more interesting storyline of Morse's experiences up in the mountains with his captors. This would be somehow forgivable if the scenes between Crowe and Ryan had any real sense of emotional danger but with no great twists or sparks to speak of, you're left thinking that Hackford could have made a better film if Ryan had been kidnapped and Crowe and Morse had to get her back or Crowe was the kidnapped husband with Morse - an excellent character actor - the negotiator.

There's no question that Crowe can do action roles but there is one bigger than the revolutionaries' ransom demand over Ryan's ability to do tough drama. With her wispy, $900 style hairdo and 'can any man ever understand me?' look she never connects with the audience and while her character is described as a "little hippy", someone should have told both her and Hackford that a pair of bad boots and a couple of dowdy dresses don't exactly provide the necessary depth to show that someone has a social conscience. How Crowe kept a straight face while she wailed "let me grieve!" is anyone's guess - you won't - and when she tells him towards the finale that he deserve better you just feel like explaining to her that so too does a paying public.

'Proof of Life' will never escape the tag of being the movie on which Crowe and Ryan got it together in real life. Tragically for both Hackford and the punters, the best drama came when the cameras weren't rolling.

Harry Guerin