Say what you will about the situation in the Middle East, but THE KINGDOM -- taking its name as the shortened version for "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" -- is mostly just set there; it's a U.N.-sensibility cop drama -- one fish out of water while the other fish knows the pond all too well -- that delivers one smokin' knock-out punch opener (pun intended), some pretty taut action sequences, and acceptable if not predictable acting performances.
Jamie Foxx (as FBI special agent Ronald Fleury) learns that an old friend has been killed in a despicable terrorist attack against American citizens working in Saudi Arabia. Realizing that the diplomatic channels available to him within the United States are useless, he takes his plea to the Saudi ambassador and manages to get approval for seven days to set boots down inside the Kingdom -- with his elite crack investigate team -- so long as he agrees that he and his partners are only empowered as observers. Once he's inside the country, he manages to peel back the layers of political obstructionism and make headway into uncovering the mastermind behind the terrorist attack.
Chris Cooper plays a CIA explosives expert with a hint of Dr. Watson to Jamie Foxx's 'Sherlock Holmes,' a learned world-weary analyst who merely wants to cut out all of the political B.S. and do his job. Jennifer Garner -- no beginner to action sequences as can be evidence by any season of JJ Abrams' televised spy drama, ALIAS -- is onboard as another American specialist for the team, ratcheting up the tension in the culture clash between the men in a country where women are not allowed to touch a dead Muslim. However, Jason Bateman nearly steals the show as a smart-mouthed forensics analyst who can't believe that the Saudis won't offer up more cooperation with the United States government; once he's abducted by the bad-guys, the film offers up a neat shot of adrenaline to the arm as the sometimes allied police officers join forces to get him back before (all too predictably) thrown bound and gagged before a video camera waiting for the ax to fall ... literally as well as figuratively.
That said, THE KINGDOM delivers some great thrills but is sadly short on political chills. Essentially, the film compares nicely a police procedural with a political backdrop -- think of it like "Beverly Hills Cop Goes to Saudi Arabia," only without the obvious humor and predictable comedy antics. Foxx and friends do their best to stay the course, and, whether intentionally or not, THE KINGDOM excels well based on the merits of the players ... Foxx, Garner, Cooper, and Bateman are, easily, a crack international police investigation unit that would work well in another cinema outing or even a series of books. Think of 'em like a Tom Clancy team or maybe CSI:DUBAI. The players manage that bit of rewarding chemistry despite very few shared scenes within the story structure and zip/zero/almost-zilch character development. Given a more effective story, THE KINGDOM's players might have the inklings of a great action-politcal franchise, but, given the limp box office, methinks that's just optimistic thinking ... far more optimism than the film delivers with it's closing scenes.
Background: Once upon a time, the government of Saudi Arabia granted permission for an American company to dig some exploratory holes around the country. As luck would have it, instead of water they found oil, and lots of it, and so began the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco.) This discovery and the resulting agreements for profit sharing gave the Saudi monarchy the wherewithal to purchase yachts with gold toilets and other such necessities, but also brought about the … more