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"THE KINGDOM"
(2007) (Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama/Action: Four FBI agents travel to Saudi Arabia without permission to investigate a coordinated attack and multiple bombing that killed their comrade.
PLOT:
When terrorists strike an American compound for oil employees in Saudi Arabia and end up killing an FBI agent, the man's comrades argue that they must strike back as soon as possible and, at minimum, travel there to investigate the scene for clues about the perpetrators.

Despite not getting permission to do so, team leader Ronald Fleury (JAMIE FOXX) covertly travels there with bomb expert Grant Sykes (CHRIS COOPER), forensics technician Janet Mayes (JENNIFER GARNER), and intelligence analyst Adam Leavitt (JASON BATEMAN). When word gets out about this unauthorized mission, various officials such as FBI director James Grace (RICHARD JENKINS) and Attorney General Gideon Young (DANNY HUSTON) are not pleased. Nor is State Department liaison Damon Schmidt (JEREMY PIVEN) who's on the scene, worried about protocol and how the less than refined quartet will be received by the royal family.

The four have bigger concerns, however, with the various Saudi officials who've been assigned to the case, such as General Al Abdulmalik (MAHMOUD SAID) who wrongly accuses guard Sergeant Haytham (ALI SULIMAN) of being one of the terrorists, while Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (ASHRAF BARHOM) is the one who stops the general from beating Haytham for information. None is pleased about the quartet's presence or the cultural differences between the two groups.

Nevertheless, Ronald and his crew continue pressing their case, including for increased investigative access. That's eventually granted, and with the newfound trust of Al Ghazi, they set out to find out who's responsible for the deadly bombing and stop them before it happens again.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
It's been said that a shockingly large percentage of American students can't locate the United States on a world map, and by standard reasoning, the same can likely be applied to a fair number of adults. Thus, it's probably a smart thing for "The Kingdom" to begin with a quick primer about its titular country, Saudi Arabia.

Facts, figures and images of the country's history over the past hundred years or so zip by on the screen, quickly bringing the audience up to speed -- Cliffs Notes style-- with the locale where most of the political action thriller will take place. Considering the brief and truncated historical perspective, those looking for a thinking person's movie about past and/or current U.S. and Saudi relations probably won't be surprised that the film isn't particularly deep in such matters, notwithstanding some brief posing to be just that.

However, those looking for a slickly made action pic -- and especially a composite of Schwarzenegger as the raiding hero of old, those CSI shows, and the gripping, hard-hitting violence of films from Michael Mann -- will likely be in cinematic nirvana. For the film delivers on all of those fronts, and should be at least a medium-sized hit, particularly among viewers who want to see the U.S. kick some terrorist behind.

In fact, the biggest complaint that's likely to leveled against this offering -- besides posturing as a political thriller and containing enough handheld camerawork to keep motion sickness medicine manufacturers in business for quite some time -- is its jingoistic tone. While the film's comic relief is smartly and effectively placed (thus somewhat softening the otherwise gritty material while also making the characters more accessible and thus engaging), it clearly reinforces the belligerent nationalism mainly due to that occasionally flippant attitude and posturing.

To be fair, director Peter Berg -- working from a script by Matthew Michael Carnahan -- does mix in some human Saudi characters along with the bevy of drones who keep conveniently and supposedly surprisingly popping up like cardboard terrorist targets at some training exercise at the Academy down at Quantico.

There's the general (Mahmoud Said) hell-bent on using torture and intimidation for information, as well as a more compassionate colonel (Ashraf Barhom) who's as determined as his superior, but for additional reasons (turns out, shock of all shocks, he's a family man just like the lead yank embodied by Jamie Foxx, meaning -- who'd a thunk -- "they" really aren't that different from "us" after all).

Yet, for all of the quieter human moments, the film has far more doing the CSI bit. Following a coordinated suicide bombing at a compound for American oil workers, a quartet of FBI agents (Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman joining Foxx) get all renegade, board a plane, break a lot of rules, and head on over for a closer look at the crime scene.

Despite being stymied by local and cultural protocol, they persevere. After all, the terrorists killed one of their own (cue Don Fontaine, the bass-voiced movie trailer narrator: "This time...they made it personal") and thus their motivation is heightened. Whether they could really get away with what they do is up for FBI experts to debate, and despite the varying levels of jingoism, the cast and crew do succeed in getting the viewer to root for their success.

Thus, when the bullets start to fly -- and they do just that and then some -- audiences will likely be completely engaged in rooting for the do-gooders to succeed. It certainly doesn't help that Berg has constructed what's arguably one of the best and extended action sequences to hit the screen in quite a while (no doubt helped by Mann's presence as one of the film's producers).

Thankfully -- and unlike the Arnie and company pics of years gone by -- the humor mostly takes a break during those intense bits of filmmaking. What doesn't, however, is Berg's insistence on having Shaky the Cameraman -- a.k.a. cinematographer Mauro Fiore -- forgo a Steadicam, tripod, or generally any half-stable surface while shooting those scenes and the rest of the film. I understand the desire for "you are there" realism, but that technique has been done to death and will likely only serve to send queasy viewers running -- or, more accurately, stumbling -- out of the theater.

For what's asked of them, the performers all ably deliver the goods, especially in the action scenes, but Foxx and Barhom are the only ones who are fleshed out a tiny bit in the film's few intimate and human moments. The rest are mostly devoid of any depth, which also ends up holding true for most of the film's politics. As a shoot 'em up version of those CSI TV shows, it's a crackerjack experience. But you'll need your maps and history books for anything beyond that. "The Kingdom" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed September 25, 2007 / Posted September 28, 2007


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