"America! Fuck, yeah!" It's almost impossible not to hear this refrain from Team America: World Police, drained of irony and played in the background of The Kingdom. But where Team America stars marionettes, the flesh-and-blood stars of The Kingdom dangle from the strings of predictable Hollywood do-good cliché.
These stars are led by Jamie Foxx, who plays Special Agent Ronald Fluery. Fluery is a good man and a good father, which is established in an early scene when he gets on one knee and emotes love through his eyes while his son asks, "There's a lot of bad people out there, aren't there?"
Fluery leads an elite FBI task force, made up of Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner, as it travels to Saudi Arabia to bring to justice the perpetrators of a massive terrorist attack.
Fluery blackmails his way through the Saudi red tape that some might call national sovereignty to get in. Once there, his crew realizes it must watch as inept Saudi investigators torture innocent people. Fortunately, Fluery teams up with a Saudi police officer (Ashraf Barhom) and convinces the Saudi prince that the American squad should lead the investigation. "America's not perfect," Fluery tells the prince, "but we're really good at this."
Fluery turns out to be right, if by "this" he means blowing up people in the Middle East. What is the point of all the extremely graphic violence that follows, besides flooding the audience with adrenaline?
War violence undergoes an interesting inversion in the landscape of contemporary media. In the mainstream American press, much fuss is made when the closed coffin of an American soldier is filmed. The rules are clear. Showing a bloodied Iraqi child: bad. Soldiers handing out candy: good.
But in movies, the reality of war becomes a moral imperative. So, in The Kingdom, the bloody stumps of recently blown off limbs are center screen and dads are mowed down in front of the wide, staring eyes of children. The result is a psychological effect that breeds a public curiously open to sending people off to kill and be killed. The lack of real images of violence from the ongoing war allows us to remain wrapped in a warm, snuggly blanket of blissful ignorance. And the overabundance of war violence in fictional content numbs, rather than awakens.
The Kingdom's violence only scrapes the American squad. Nary a bullet punctures the soft flesh of a Hollywood shoulder. The trillions of rounds fired land between American toes and enemy eyes. The Kingdom is The A-Team set in a contemporary political situation-albeit an imagined one. A tacked-on attempt, at the end of the action, to reach a deep moral conclusion, is pathetic.
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