The best part of "Held Up" is its premise: A motorist abandoned by his wife in a desert convenience store finds himself held hostage by a Mexican desperado. Play that dramatically, and you've got a variation on "Painted Desert" or maybe "The Desperate Hours." Play it for comedy, though, and you have the foundation for a fairly decent sitcom -- think Bob Newhart stranded in Mel's Diner while the citizens of Mayberry watch and Boss Hogg negotiates over a bullhorn.
"Held Up" goes for laughs all the way, not even bothering with verisimilitude. Instead, it reaches for every cheap chuckle available, and some twice.
Thanks to an attractive cast and an air of amiability, much of it works. (You've seen far more money spent with far less satisfactory results.) Jamie Foxx plays the fish out of water, Chicagoan Michael Dawson, who's stranded when his car is stolen and his disgusted wife, Rae (Nia Long), catches a ride to Las Vegas. Foxx, a veteran of his own TV series and a notable quarterback role in "Any Given Sunday," is required to stretch not one bit in this latest "who, me?" characterization.
Adding to the small-screen feel of the cast are two "Northern Exposure" refugees, Barry Corbin (playing Pembry, a baseball coach/sheriff in charge of a battery of hick-town cops) and John Cullem (making the long leap from Brick bartender to Sip & Zip counterman). Gary Busey's son Jake plays one of several doofus deputies, and more vaguely familiar faces populate the crowd that gathers to watch the proceedings.
Director Steve Rash doesn't try to milk more than 82 minutes' worth of enjoyment out of his thin plot. Far from being furtive about borrowing freely from better films, writer Jeff Eastin (creator of TV's "Shasta McNasty") tries to coax in-joke snickering from whichever viewers have seen the same movies he has.
That's a TV concept, a sustaining aspect of episodic entertainment. It runs counter to the capacities of the big screen and what we generally regard as worthwhile film viewing. And nearly all the action takes place in the cramped quarters of a convenience market.
For those reasons, "Held Up" may actually work better on home video than as a big-screen comedy. With enough bathroom and Pop Secret breaks thrown into mix, of course.