The time of the year a movie is released in theaters is often a good indicator of the type of movie the audience should expect when forking over their $8.
Summer releases promise big bangs or big laughs while November and December releases are usually frontrunners for the award season. But September and October are regularly used as a dumping ground for failed projects and space fillers.
Despite this knowledge, I went into the recently released "The Kingdom" expecting to be at the very least entertained and possibly even wowed. The film featured an ensemble cast lead by two Oscar winners, a topical plot line and a solid director poised to take the next step. Unfortunately "The Kingdom" turned out to be nothing more than a retread of better action movies which avoids the major issues of its primary topic.
"The Kingdom" begins with a blood bath terrorist attack at an American oil company's housing complex located in Saudi Arabia. Men dressed as Saudi state police first gun down dozens of men, women and children before detonating a small bomb near a family softball game. Later that night, while hundreds of civilians are being treated for their wounds by medical personnel, a much larger bomb is detonated in the center of the commotion.
After learning a friend is killed in the attack, FBI special agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx, "Ray") uses his connections to ensure his team is on the ground in Saudi Arabia less than 36 hours after the attack. While trying to aid in the investigation, Fleury and his crack team run into several roadblocks along the way including a Saudi chief investigator not suited for the position, a general dislike of Americans in the country and the extreme prejudices against the team's female member (Jennifer Garner, "Alias").
After the visually interesting hits "The Rundown" and "Friday Night Lights," director Peter Berg shows great restraint in the "The Kingdom." His flair for the visual is clearly apparent in the film's opening credits, which also act as a lesson in Saudi Arabia's history. But once the acting actually starts, it feels like a dozen other action movies were cut and pasted together to form "The Kingdom."
Maybe Berg was trying to be careful with the way he presented his subject matter, not wanting to offend anyone with flashy on screen graphics and shots he used to such great effect in his previous efforts. He instead takes the safe route, basically stealing several scenes from similar films.
Take the film's final set piece, which revolves around an ambush in a narrow street surrounded by several three story buildings. The FBI team is forced to defend their lower position from dozens of bad guys who cowardly hide on tops of buildings and inside windowed rooms while wielding machine guns and rocket launchers. The scene works OK in "The Kingdom," but not nearly as well as it did 13 years ago in "Clear and Present Danger."
Berg also fails to use his stellar cast to their greatest effect. The always great Chris Cooper ("Breach") and Jason Bateman ("Arrested Development") seem like an afterthought, while the lesser Foxx dominates most of the screen time.
"The Kingdom" is a classic example of a movie that falters despite having all the right pieces of the puzzle. What could have been a tense, political action thriller turned out to be nothing more than a dud.
"The Kingdom" is rated R for intense sequences of graphic brutal violence and for language.