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IN SHORT: At least there's a satisfying ending [Rated [R], 115 minutes]
His brother, Donnie, was right, Mark Wahlberg can't sing. But he can play the average middle class guy, in this case a homesick soldier, well. Ice Cube finally delivers a good performance and George Clooney is subtle and superb in Three Kings, in which greedy Ugly Americans learn all about moral courage. I've said this several times on CNN, the better movies should offer you characters that you can believe in. They should push your buttons (good or bad) and provoke some kind of reaction -- whether it's laughter or anger -- and Three Kings provoked both in Cranky.
The setting is the 1991 Gulf War, cheered by those too young to remember Vietnam, because "we kicked Sadaam's ass," and reviled by us old folks, liberal and conservative alike, because we didn't finish the thing and take Sadaam Hussein down for good. David O. Russell's script for Three Kings, inspired by a true event during the Vietnam War, doesn't dance lightly around the politics and violence of the situation. Soldiers are ordered to do nothing as Iraqi troops gun down their own civilians -- this after we said we'd support any uprising against said troops. Things organic and non-organic, explode as necessary and always to make some kind of story point. Nothing gratuitous, here, so points to Russell for that. Politically, being the old fart that I am, my stomach was turning to the point that it got in the way of enjoying the flick. Across the board, after the fact, everyone I spoke with after the screening was positive towards the movie. So I'll stay the hell away from the political soap box as much as possible and get on with the nitty gritty.
The Gulf War, as we see it, is populated by enlisted men who are not exactly the best and the brightest, enemy troops who are even dumber, jaded Special Forces officers who want a bigger payoff and bulldog tough television reporters with inferiority complexes. The humor in Russell's script runs close to satire (and satire has killed three very funny movies this year alone). His directorial style is hard core, liberally tossing film processing and camera tricks at you, to the point that they intrude on the telling of the tale. The strength is in his script, which allows for redemption and a happy ending that we all hold so near and dear to our hearts.
Our grunts are Army Sgt. Troy Barlow (Wahlberg), who has spent the war doing cleaning up after the hi tech troops. As the film starts he still hasn't notched his first kill. Still, he's the moral center, and looked up to by Pvt. Conrad Elgin (Spike Jonze), who is illiterate, undereducated and unemployable back home. Rounding up surrendering solders they discover a map that Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) believes to show the location of bunkers containing gold and other goods Sadaam Hussein has boosted from Kuwait. Rather than turning the map over to their Commanding Officer, they fall under the spell of Special Forces Captain Archie Gates (Clooney) who convinces the grunts that, with a borrowed truck and a couple of hours of AWOL time, they can go home and never have to work a day in their lives. Materialistic to the core, it's off to raid the bunkers.
Adding a bit of humor to the location is a CNN type reporter, Adriana Cruz (Nora Dunn). Clooney's character is supposed to be leading her to the good stories (just what we train our Green Berets to do) but Clooney is shtupping one of Cruz' much younger, and prettier, rivals. Labeling both of 'em as burnout cases would be kind, but would be true. The conflict between the two -- she's annoying, he doesn't want to play the PR game, even under orders -- helps take some of the edge off the rest of the flick.
This isn't a "greed is good" flick, though that's how it begins. Yes, the gold is found. Yes, our boys stand by and do nothing as Iraqui troops trash their own civilians (it was part of the cease fire deal, as explained ad nauseum). Yes, the violence is graphic and sobering and shut up the laughing audience very quickly. And, yes (finally) they do the right thing, made even more poignant because the rest of the Army doesn't want to.
. . .
I've been staring a the keyboards for two hours now folks. This thing is pissing me off politically and I promised I'd stay the hell away from that. So, goodnight.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Three Kings, he would have paid...
I'll say it again. Despite skipping the bleach, Three Kings is well made, well acted, and it sure as hell got a reaction out of this guy. That's what I say I want 'em to do. That's what Three Kings did and why the flick hits the "recommended" level. I also know my history, folks.
Films that piss me off this badly invariably become monster hits, so don't bother with the flame mail. I've seen it all before.
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