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Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007 03:32 pm

Getting ugly in the House of Saud

Watch arrogant Americans treat Muslims with contempt

The Kingdom Running time 1:50 Rated R ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
Untitled Document Just what is it about Peter Berg’s The Kingdom that bothers me? Could it be the Ugly American swagger that its characters flaunt? Could it be the fact that this so-called important film is nothing more than a slice of warmed-over C.S.I. with a hefty budget? Could it be that the action scenes are shot and crosscut with such confusion that they induce headaches rather than thrills? Actually, all of these things — and a whole lot more — bother me about this film. While it wants to be a tool to bridge the gap between Americans and radical Saudis, The Kingdom is nothing more than a mindless action film that exploits a politically volatile situation. Jaime Foxx is FBI agent Ronald Fleury, a crack investigator who journeys to Saudi Arabia to investigate a terrorist attack on an American village that houses oil workers. Never mind that his superiors have warned him that his presence will enflame an already tenuous situation there, Fleury goes all John Wayne and recruits forensic specialist Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), explosives technician Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), and intelligence analyst Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman) to go to Riyadh to set things straight.
Granted just five days to conduct their investigation, the agents examine dead bodies, scour crime scenes, and interview witnesses in an effort to uncover who was behind the attack. The clues are put together predictably and the structure of the investigative narrative is no better or worse than an episode of Law and Order. However, I expect more than that when watching a major motion picture. As you might expect, cultures clash again and again as Fluery and his crew blunder through Riyadh, blissfully ignorant of the local culture. This proves to be the most irritating and offensive part of the film. While some screen time is given to develop the character of Col. Farris Al Ghazi (Ashram Barhop), the team’s reluctant Saudi advisor who is eventually assimilated to their cause, this all comes off as a token gesture, an isolated incident in which we meet the one good Saudi citizen in a country of backward people.
Berg is one of our more exciting young filmmakers (The Rundown, Friday Night Lights) and it’s a shame that he’s lent his talent to this piece of inflammatory entertainment. There are flashes throughout that reaffirm his talent — including a bracing and effective credits sequence that features a timeline and capsule history of the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia — however, the attitude of the film outweighs any positive elements in its presentation. What’s most disturbing, and is the movie’s most effective moment, occurs at the end when we realize that the one thing these two cultures share is the tendency to resort to violence in response to diplomatic problems. Ironically, this film will do little to bridge the gap between our two kingdoms.
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