Wednesday, October 6, 1999

Three Kings

Posted By on Wed, Oct 6, 1999 at 12:00 AM

The action movie is dead. The superheroic-larger-than-life-politically-deranged-badass-let’s-all-be-Quentin-Tarantino-war-mockumentary has taken its place. Is this good, bad or – merely – ugly?

It’s not like we haven’t noticed that recent movies tend to mix and match genres – to take, say, an action-drama and make it look like a surreal comedy with cartoonish yet macho characters who seem to have abused their emotion chip. It’s not like we don’t appreciate the fumblings of otherwise talented filmmakers who – in their quest for originality – forget that simplicity pays off. But there’s something disturbingly repetitive about the "let’s leave at dawn and be back by lunch" scenario which turns either into "a journey of redemption and discovery" or into a successful attempt to save the world. ("Gentlemen, the universe is in trouble. Are you free for the day?")

Three Kings opts for the redemption variant. The time: March 1991. The place: the Iraqi desert. The players: Captain Archie Gates (George Clooney), Sergeant Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg of The Corruptor), Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) and Private Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze, director of Being John Malkovich). The point: The guys are shooting the breeze while the Gulf War, oblivious to their existence, unfolds somewhere in the background. They’re bored and want to see some action. That’s when they discover, tucked away in a prisoner’s ass (Pulp Fiction, anyone?) the map of one of Saddam’s stashes of Kuwaiti gold.

Clooney has that From Dusk Till Dawnish charm about him. Ice Cube is trustworthy; Wahlberg is honest and Jonze is funny. Together they go treasure hunting, but end up saving lives.

Things happen: Bullets fly in slow-John Woo-motion; a cow explodes; bad guys become good guys; a needle stuck in Wahlberg’s chest brings him back from the dead; surreal clouds darken exotic locations; blood spills; bile travels. (The shots following the bullet inside Wahlberg’s body are not for the squeamish.) Great performances all around.

So, what’s wrong with this picture? Nothing, except for a slight feeling of nostalgia for director David O. Russell’s (Spanking the Monkey) once truly original characters.

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