MOVIE REVIEW- Out foxxed: 'The Kingdom' a 'Black Hawk' wannabe
Some movies should be watched only on DVD, where you have the option of pausing and reversing to catch things you missed rather than having to buy another ticket and watch the whole movie again.
There are two reasons you'll want to have control over The Kingdom:
1. Action scenes in which it's hard to tell who's doing what to whom. One particular sequence involves an attack on a convoy, during which what appear to be uniformed police pull someone from an overturned vehicle, but someone else in the vehicle seems to be trying to pull him back in. It eventually makes sense, but not while it's happening.
2. Each character– and there are a lot of them– is introduced with a subtitle giving their name, rank (if applicable) and affiliation. By the time you think, "Oh yeah, that's Whatzisname," the information is gone, in some cases never to be repeated. That's more of a problem with the Saudis than the Americans– unless you're Saudi and the situation is reversed– but what is Jeremy Piven's function anyway?
The movie gets off to a flying start with 75 years of history in about a minute and a half. With a multimedia assault to prepare us for what's ahead, we see the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia established in 1932, oil discovered there the following year, and the Arabian American Oil Company formed in 1938 to exploit the resources of the world's biggest oil producer (them) for the world's biggest oil consumer (us). And so on to the present day.
Jamie Foxx is introduced in Washington, DC as FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleury, with a young son who rivals Will Smith's for cuteness. Their moment is interrupted by a call about a terrorist attack on an American compound in Riyadh. Daddy has to go to work.
One of those killed was a close friend of Fleury and fellow agent Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner). Their boss (Richard Jenkins) refuses to do anything, arguing that additional "American boots on Saudi soil" would be considered a provocation and increase support among Saudi locals for the extremists; so Fleury goes over his head and applies pressure on the Saudi ambassador to allow him to bring an FBI team there for five days to assist in the investigation. Besides Mayes, the team includes Agents Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper) and Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman).
The terrorists got into the compound by dressing as Saudi police, so as we're learning to distinguish their uniforms from those of the Saudi National Guard (camouflage prints), we still can't be sure who's real and who isn't. A sadistic interrogator accuses someone of killing the killers to keep them from being questioned. The apparent mastermind is an "Osama wannabe" named Abu Hamza.
Saudi Police Captain Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhoum) is assigned as reluctant liaison to the FBI team. He initially sees his job as keeping them from doing anything substantive, but he's gradually won over by Fleury's charm. (It must be in Foxx's contract that he's never to be shown looking uncool.)
From then on, it's a straight-ahead procedural with cultural differences thrown in for flavor. Director Peter Berg includes all the necessary information, if he doesn't always make it easily accessible; perhaps he overachieves in simulating chaos in the action scenes. Long stretches without action are kept alive by Danny Elfman's pounding, propulsive music.
The good guys and bad guys are pretty clear, when you're able to recognize them, but once this battle's been resolved, a slight twist at the end delivers what can be seen as an antiwar message. It also can– and no doubt will– be seen as a slap in the face by various people who insist their own violence is justifiable.
The Kingdom contains elements of Black Hawk Down and Three Kings, but while it's not bad, it doesn't equal either of them for artistic achievement or entertainment.