Anti-terror gusto

'The Kingdom' delivers action without the caution

Posted: September 28, 2007

Looks like the war on terror could be the first one to be fought without any corresponding agitprop from Hollywood.

Even the Vietnam War had its "Green Berets," but thus far we have yet to see a movie where a bunch of guys chopper into terrorist country, kick down a door, shoot some bad guys and fly back to the States for a Budweiser. ("Hot Shots Part Deux" does not count.)

Instead, we've seen a steady stream of movies that warn against the revenge impulse. There was "Munich" and "Syriana" with their blowback caution, the rise-above-it "A Mighty Heart" and recently "The Brave One" - kill the bad guys, lose your soul.

It's all admonition, no ammunition. Aren't we occasionally entitled to something a little less . . . responsible?

The closest thing may be "The Kingdom," starring Jamie Foxx as the head of a crack FBI forensics team (Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman) cracking heads in Saudi Arabia.

When al Qaeda terrorists kill American civilians and an FBI guy at an oil field compound, a gung-ho special agent Ron Fleury (Foxx) does a sneaky end run around the State Department stooge (Danny Huston) enforcing Saudi objections to the presence of Yankee investigators on Saudi soil.

Fleury and his team whisk to Riyadh, where, under the suffocating supervision of a Saudi baby sitter (Ashraf Barhom, a nice performance in a tough role), he attempts a rudimentary investigation.

Arab/U.S. investigators clash, develop mutual respect, and eventually bond over shared contempt for the political interference of higher-ups.

The formula is familiar but the setting is novel, and Foxx and Barhom, as his Saudi counterpart, have a good screen rapport. Jennifer Garner is on hand mostly for breast jokes, and I'm not sure what Jason Bateman is doing in this movie - does the FBI have wisecrack specialists?

Director Peter Berg ("Friday Night Lights") knows how to handle a big cast, kick a story in the keister, and stage action, but talent suits action better than performance.

Still, he gets close enough to key characters to allow for a tense finale - U.S. and Saudi investigators in armed, bloody confrontation with the heinous perpetrators of the massacre.

"The Kingdom" has a kind of rough-hewn, B-movie appeal and energy, and it doesn't scrimp on its promise of putting evildoers in crosshairs.

But even "The Kingdom," however, comes with a disclaimer - a cycle-of-violence coda delivered with the same pulp velocity as its bullets. *

Produced by Michael Mann and Scott Stuber, directed by Peter Berg, written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, music by Danny Elfman, distributed by Universal Pictures.

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