The prologue to "The Kingdom" bombards us with pro-vocative facts about Saudi Arabia, its vast oil resources, terrorism and the close links between the Saudi royal family and the United States. We are, clearly, being prepared for a politically savvy thriller of our post-9/11 world. Then the movie proper starts, with a sickeningly realistic suicidebombing attack on an oil-company compound in Riyadh, in which hundreds are killed, many of them American oil workers, and hundreds more wounded.
What follows, however, is basically (and disappointingly) a straight-up police procedural/action movie in which a team of FBI agents, champing at the bit to apprehend the killers but hamstrung at every turn by local and international protocol, secretly flies in from Washington in a race against the clock to stop the terrorists.
As a genre movie, "The Kingdom" delivers atmosphere, heroic American derring-do and some decent thrills, though director Peter Berg's approximation of a jerky documentary style suffers from its proximity to the more textured "Bourne Ultimatum." Berg's touch was surer in small-town Texas, where his fine "Friday Night Lights" was set. "The Kingdom" builds up a good head of steam by the end, whipping the audience into a bloodthirsty frenzy (there was applause when one bad guy got his just deserts). Then, having fulfilled its genre expectations, it tacks on a coda that, like the prologue, casts the story we've been watching in a broader, and supposedly more serious, perspective, suggesting that a thin line separates the guys we've been rooting for from the guys we've been rooting for them to kill. Huh? Both discordant and disingenuous, this faux-profound final note suggests that Berg and screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan don't know what kind of movie they've actually made—or would like to pretend they've made another kind.
The way to enjoy "The Kingdom" is to see it as a popcorn cross of "The A Team" and "Alias." The superefficient FBI team ("Let us help you. We're good at this," they argue to a Saudi prince) is led by Jamie Foxx, who confirms the suspicion raised by "Miami Vice" that this superb character actor has far less impact in standard leading-man roles. The dependable Chris Cooper is the laconic explosives expert, Jennifer Garner the improbably glamorous forensics examiner and, for scene-stealing ironic relief, Jason Bateman is the intelligence analyst. Reinforcing the notion that we are watching TV is Jeremy Piven's appearance as a crass, pushy diplomat. He's a dead ringer for Ari Gold.