Peter Berg’s The Kingdom is a slick action flick masquerading as a statement movie. Despite a great cast and high production values – it fails on both terms because of a wrong-headed in the third act.
The trailers for The Kingdom pretty much spell out the plot of Peter Berg’s new film, but they don’t really hint at the turn that makes it a waste of time for all but those most interested in gun battles and stuff getting blowed up real good.
When a softball game is interrupted by fundamentalist fanatics in a sequestered camp for Americans working in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, among the dozens of deaths [many being women and children], one of the victims is Francis Manner [Kyle Chandler], a mentor to FBI Agents Rick Fleury [Jamie Foxx] and Janet Mayes [Jennifer Garner]. Fleury immediately begins jockeying to get an FBI Evidence Response Team into the kingdom to aid in the investigation.
After a lot of political wrangling [favors owed, markers called in], Fleury’s team is allowed to observe the investigation. Observe. It takes dinner with one of the kingdoms hundreds of princes to facilitate actual, hands-on investigating – but as soon as that is given one of the team, Adam Leavitt [Jason Bateman] – the comic relief to that point – is kidnapped by the terrorists. And that is where the film goes off the tracks for good.
The team’s liaison, Colonel Faris al Ghazi [Ashraf Barhom], a secondary source of comic relief [and one that doesn’t work at all] despite his desire to see the killers caught and punished, turns out to be an investigator where the army general assigned to do so has no clue – even torturing one of the police who saved hundreds of lives with his actions during the attack. When and Fleury get on the same page, they make progress – leading to discovery of a cell of amateur terrorists who couldn’t possibly have pulled off the highly organized strike on the Americans.
It’s at this point that the terrorists kidnap Leavitt in a hastily improvised plan that leads the investigators to their headquarters. Given that the original strike was well thought out and well executed, the kidnapping amounts to idiot plotting – insofar as it requires every one of the intelligent and highly trained terrorists to become complete idiots in order for the American investigators to find their headquarters – and likewise assumes that the audience must be composed of idiots to buy this ridiculous situation.
It’s a shame, really, because the cast acts their hearts out and Berg’s direction is terrific [except for a tendency to linger a little too long on the faces of his American characters]. Whatever statement the film has to make is made over the opening credits as a montage shows the history of U.S./Saudi relations over the last seventy-odd years – up to reaffirming that fifteen of the nineteen hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi citizens. After that, the film is purely an action flick with the usual sterling heroes, eee-vile villains and comic relief from both American and Saudi sources.
In the end, there is a bang up showdown that is way over the top – just for those who don’t much care about plot or character as long as bullets fly and things explode. It’s a case of a great cast and effects being wasted on a film that requires the villains to suddenly develop the collective AIQ of an eggplant to let the good guys find them.
By the time the credits finally rolled, I felt more insulted than anything else. That is not what the filmmakers intended, but that’s what stupidity in plotting does. I simply cannot, in good conscience, recommend The Kingdom to anyone who wants a film to make sense.
Final Grade: D
Review Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted on 09-29-07