Concluding a month that brought the sixth commemoration of 9/11, a video missive from Osama bin Laden, and a surge endorsement by General David Petraeus, The Kingdom is a timely—if tepid—fantasy of American vengeance on the Qutbian extremists of Saudi Arabia.
Directed by Peter Berg from Matthew Michael Carnahan’s screenplay, The Kingdom opens by analogizing the attack on the World Trade Center. A gang of Saudi terrorists orchestrate a Sunday-afternoon assault on an American compound in Riyadh— complete with stormed checkpoint, suicide bombers, and a massive, strategically delayed explosion. The grounds are littered with civilians, but the key casualty is a visiting FBI agent.
Cut to D.C., where the incensed FBI would gladly invade Saudi Arabia were it not for the timidity of craven bureaucrats—mainly the U.S. attorney general. (In this alternate universe, the attorney general panders to the Senate, not the president.) The most gung-ho of FBI agents is Jamie Foxx, a volatile woof-machine who intimidates a stray Saudi prince into signing off on an FBI mission to solve the crime. Actually, Foxx is the movie’s surrogate president; in his softer moments, he comforts fatherless boys and effects twangy New Age reconciliation.
Leading the mission to Mars (the locations mix Arizona and Abu Dhabi), Foxx is accompanied by a demographically provocative trio. There’s a hard-bodied, no-nonsense chick (Jennifer Garner), a wise-guy Jew (Jason Bateman), and a good- natured good ol’ boy (Chris Cooper). Can you guess which of the three will be abducted and made the subject of a throat-slit video? And here’s another puzzler: Are there any good Saudis—and, if so, who are they? By their appealing looks and appreciation of Foxx’s street cred shall we know them: “America is not perfect, but we are good at this. Let us help you,” Foxx pleads with the local chief of police (the Arab-Israeli actor Ashraf Barhom, who played a suicide bomber in Paradise Now).
Should terrorism, as John Kerry suggested, be handled as a crime? Halfway through the movie, the FBI agents go Marine. United in vengeance, the combined American and Saudi forces eventually eschew dull procedure for thrilling car-chase action, ending with a firefight in a very bad neighborhood. (Call it “Black Hawk downtown.”) A hand-to-hand slamming-gouging-stabbing denouement got a mild rise out of the preview audience at the Loews 83rd Street, but the movie’s main satisfaction is the utopian spectacle of wounded Americans heading home, mission accomplished.