Short of sending in the Marines, there aren't that many things we can do when terrorists strike Americans on foreign soil. There aren't? Welcome to The Kingdom, Peter Berg's wish-fulfillment fantasy about a rogue FBI investigative unit led by Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx). When an Islamic-terrorist leader masterminds a shooting spree and well-timed bomb in a Saudi Arabian housing compound where American oil-company employees live with their families, Fleury ignores the wishes of the State Department and the White House and lands in Riyadh with his explosives guy (Chris Cooper), his intelligence guy (Jason Bateman) and his forensics gal (Jennifer Garner). They're going to find the bad guys and do a Dirty Dozen number on their asses.
Setting aside the fact that whoever did it would surely seek credit, The Kingdom first concerns itself with sifting evidence and following clues. And apparently the Saudis have no experience at this, because they stand by while Fleury and his crew find needle after needle in the haystack. And the movie works on that CSI level, the members of the team showing just enough bonhomie while avenging a colleague who was killed in the terrorist attack. Resistance comes in the form of Ashraf Barhom, who plays the Saudi cop in charge of serving and protecting the FBI agents during their allotted time in-country, and the script goes a little buddy-movie on us as Foxx and Barhom's characters slowly learn how to respect each other's position. They're both fathers with young sons, and it turns out they both want the same thing.
To keep the oil flowing? The Kingdom doesn't do much with Saudi Arabia, one of the more fascinating countries on the planet, than use it as an exotic backdrop for a straight-ahead action-thriller. And there's little sense of the repressive polices by which the royal family both squelches and breeds terrorism. But the movie succeeds on its own terms. It's entertaining and carries a whiff of geopolitical import. Berg, who coached both the movie and TV versions of Friday Night Lights, knows how to keep it real, the shaky-cam stopping just short of nausea-inducing levels. And the dialogue has both grit and wit. But there's something a little crass about Hollywood invading the Middle East like this. Think Syriana, only with most of the politics removed.