“The Kingdom” is a film that manages to completely miss one mark, while absolutely hitting it right in the center of another.
This Peter Berg-directed film falls short in its attempt to be a ripped-from-the-headlines type drama, yet manages to salvage itself if you take it for what it is - a standard action flick that just happens to be set in an exotic location.
“The Kingdom” begins with a terrorist attack on an American housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. At first the U.S. government is content with maintaining protocol and letting the Saudi Arabian government handle the investigation.
That decision doesn’t sit well with FBI special agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx), so he negotiates a secret five-day trip to assist with the investigation.
Once in Riyadh, Fleury and his team of investigators (Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) quickly discover that they are not wanted and their investigation is stifled by local protocol.
Fleury’s crew eventually finds an ally, a Saudi colonel (Ashraf Barhoum), who is willing to help them catch the people responsible for the bombing.
Foxx is pretty dynamic in the lead, showing his versatility as an actor. The rest of the cast is spotty: Cooper is underutilized, Garner is seemingly out of place and Jeremy Piven is unable to bring anything to his character, a U.S. diplomat who comes off as a caricature.
Matthew Michael Carnahan’s screenplay tries to make a statement about current U.S./Middle Eastern relations, but the message feels preachy and doesn’t really offer a fresh point of view. It also doesn’t fit to Berg’s strengths as a director.
What does fit Berg’s strength is his keen eye for action and “The Kingdom” has that down to a T. When the film hits its stride in the final third, with an extended chase sequence, “The Kingdom” really kicks it into another gear.
“The Kingdom” isn’t quite up to the high standards set by the Bourne franchise, but it is still good enough to make it a film that action fans will appreciate.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “1408” (B-), the thriller based on the Stephen King short story that manages to entertain, despite a less than satisfying final act.
John Cusack stars as Mike Enslin, a writer who specializes in debunking paranormal occurrences.
His latest target is room 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel, a room in which numerous guests have mysteriously died within an hour of checking in.
Enslin is convinced that the deaths are just coincidence and the whole idea of the room being haunted is merely a myth, but his skepticism quickly fades after he enters 1408.
“1408” is essentially staged like a one-act play, with Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson (as the hotel’s manager) as the main characters. Cusack is pretty effective as Enslin, capturing the character’s cynicism and eventual free-fall into madness.
For the first three-quarters of the film, “1408” really zips along and is one of the more entertaining thrillers in recent memory. But the film really starts to fall apart in the final act, unsure how to conclude Enslin’s journey. The final result is less than satisfying, although it’s still not enough to totally dismiss “1408” as a complete misfire.
“1408” is rated PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing sequences of violence and terror, frightening images and language and will be available Tuesday on DVD.