Let me say it right up front: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a seriously sick society. They are by no means the only one, but as they are our “allies” in the “War on Terror,” it makes me hate them all the more. If there were a button here on my desk that, when pushed, would cause every male adherent of the Wahabi sect of Islam to vanish (whether to Paradise or to Hell, I don’t really care; either way they wouldn’t trouble Planet Earth anymore), I’d press it in an instant. If there were a second button that would kill every male member of the House of Saud, raze every one of their incredibly decadent palaces right down to the sand, sow the grounds with radioactive salts, and cause a million pigs to piss on the smoking ruins, I’d push that button, too. As for Islam itself, “The Religion of Peace” … well, that’s enough buttons for today, and if I pushed that one I’d have to point out that I’d also want a button for Jerry Falwell and his tribe, Mormons, Catholics, Hindus, Scientologists … the list is long.
This movie gets off to a good start, with an awful scene of carnage as a truck bomb is detonated at a softball game at an American compound in Riyadh (actually Dubai, and Arizona). Hundreds are killed. Back in DC, the FBI wants to investigate, but is up against the usual wall of isolation imposed by the Desert Kingdom of Camel-fuckers. Four of them eventually get in, led by Jamie Foxx. (Among them is Jennifer Garner, who should have known better than to wear that t-shirt in sexually perverted SA.) They are making no progress, bureaucratic and religious obstacles cropping up everywhere they turn, until they finally convince a Saudi prince that finding the killers might actually be a good thing, and make friends with a true Saudi patriot in the police force. Then it turns into CSI: Riyadh for a while, which gives Chris Cooper a chance to wallow around in a mudhole and act macho. Soon the four are hot on the trail, so naturally they are attacked, leading to a huge, long car chase and shoot-out.
Now, I’ll admit to the no-longer-so-guilty pleasures of seeing men in robes and red-and-white-checkered keffiyehs getting blown up, riddled with bullets, dying horribly. Who could really resist it? But the plot takes some awkward leaps here at the end, as movies so often do, and I was left unsatisfied. Surely there is something to say about this situation a little deeper than the conclusion here, where Foxx and a little Arab boy both repeat the same mantra: Kill ‘em all. That’s emotionally satisfying, but as Israel has learned to its sorrow over 60 years, it doesn’t work in the end.
TECHNICAL NOTE: The shaky-cam operator really should be paid overtime for practicing his craft in slow, static scenes as well as action-packed ones. Paid … and then I’d cheerfully break both his arms. I’m thinking of starting a shaky-cam Hall of Shame, and inducting directors who overuse this most dreadful of “edgy” techniques when it is strictly un-called for. A permanent life member would be Jerry Bruckheimer, and I’d also add the director of Friday Night Lights … and goddam it if I didn’t just look him up, to find that he is none other than Peter Berg, who directed this palsied effort! Buy a tripod, Mr. Berg!