What the Foxx?

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I suppose it would eventually come to this. It’s not enough that we have forensic shows that take place in every major city in America (“Next week on ‘CSI: Smyrna,’ will the mysterious cow-tipping carnage continue at the Yoder farm?”), but now they have to move the action overseas.

Welcome to “CSI: Saudi Arabia,” aka “The Kingdom.”

Actually, that comparison is a tad generous, as at least the televised crime dramas may keep its audiences guessing until the final act. No such luck with “The Kingdom,” which attacks its heavy-handed “message” like a Michael Vick-bred pooch at Westminster.

The most troubling aspect of the film is that in all its posturing of “Hey, we’re all the same,” treacle, it also wants to get in a number of bloody action sequences at the expense of the delicate current world climate.

Seriously, doctors could study this film for years in an effort to find a cure for schizophrenia (and Parkinson’s if you take into consideration the constantly quivering camera shots, but that is another issue).

The film starts with a suicide bombing that levels a small American community in the middle of Saudi Arabia, and quickly introduces us to a crack team of FBI agents tasked to investigate the site. Led by Sgt. Ronald Fleury (played by Jamie Foxx, following the Halley Berry playbook in how to squander an Oscar), the team includes a coterie of clichés – the tough cookie (played by Jennifer Garner, no stranger to tush kicking from her role in “Alias”), the hardened senior military man (played by Chris Cooper, channeling R. Lee Emery) and the wiseacre wuss (played by an amusing but out-of-place Jason Bateman).

When the group initially lands in the Middle East is actually the only interesting card up the film’s very short sleeve. Out of their comfort zone and under the command of local military, they must attempt to uncover clues in an environment in which every neighborhood could hide a horde of hostiles.

Yet director Peter Berg (“Very Bad Things,” “The Rundown”) does not want to waste time or sympathy exploring such subtleties and would rather rattle our cages with deafening explosions and jingoistic combat, pausing infrequently to toss a bone of contrition and ham-handedly demonstrating that, whatdoyaknow? Those Arab folk love their country and families just like we do!

It’s pandering at its lowest. You almost expect Larry The Cable Guy to pop his bulbous head out of a foxhole (or is that Foxx-hole?) and yell, “Well ain’t that sumpthin’! Them A-rabs like to git r done, too!”

But all this intercontinental hand-holding and back-patting does not come without its fair share of “Rambo-esque” bloodshed, where we root for our heroes to to escape a downtown apartment complex in which neighbors apparently knock on one another’s door and ask to borrow a cup of grenades or a spare rocket launcher. We are also treated to a few stabbings and a near-beheading.

Are we supposed to cheer? For whom?

Perhaps this would be considered “entertainment” if young boys and girls were not already in a cluster of confusion facing similar situations for four years counting with no foreseeable end.

Still, I honestly am not sure, for I do not think Berg was truly clear himself of the film’s ultimate goal. He can certainly stage a tense action sequence, as witnessed by a highway highjacking scene that practically leaves shattered glass in your lap. Beyond that, though, his tank is empty.

I miss the days when we could actually enjoy films from Stallone’s and Schwarzenegger’s heyday. Unapologetic in their nastiness and revisionist mentality, they did not even attempt to make excuses that they were pandering to masses with their own inanities. They could be appreciated on a comic-book level, existing in their own little separate universe.

But “The Kingdom” exploits some very real anxiety for its thrills, while still trying to lodge an olive branch on the end of its AK-47.

And in its effort to be all things to all viewers, it manages to be nothing.

~ by usesoapfilm on October 2, 2007.

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