Rated R - Running Time: 1:55 - Released 10/1/99

What is it about the Gulf War? Was there not enough action or adventure to warrant an intelligent film on the subject? The closest we've come is Courage Under Fire, which, even though it was about cracking under pressure, was at least respectful to its characters. But Three Kings, written by John Ridley and adapted and directed by David O. Russell, portrays American soldiers as looters, racists, and trigger-happy profiteers. And inept ones at that. When I saw that this film starred George Clooney and three former rap stars, I knew it couldn't be a serious treatise on the subject.

After the war has ended, the U.S. Army discovers a secret map showing the location of tons of stolen Kuwaiti goods, including warehouses full of gold bullion. This info falls into the hands of Commander Archie Gates (George Clooney), who is just a few weeks away from retirement. Instead of informing his superiors of the find, and retiring with honor and free of danger, he decides to go on an illegal treasure hunt in the Iraqi desert, taking along Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) and Chief Elgin (Ice Cube), and also Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze) as driver of the getaway Hum-V. Leaving behind the reporter he was supposed to be escorting (Nora Dunn), Gates leads his gang into Iraqi-held territory, running into a detatchment of Saddam's Republican Guard, who are holding some Iraqi rebels prisoner.

Because the Iraqi civilians are only doing what George Bush told them to do (namely, rebel against Saddam), and because the U.S. has since withdrawn its support, leaving them dangling in the breeze, and because the people are being tortured and summarily executed by the Iraqi soldiers, our guys decide to break the cease-fire agreement and help them. They engage the soldiers in a minor skirmish, kill several of them, and move on with the rebels in tow. They then make a deal that in return for vehicles and help with the gold, they will escort them to the Iranian border. But soon Barlow is taken prisoner, and the civilian rebels are fighting alongside the Gates gang, trying to spring him while lugging around all those huge duffelbags full of ingots. And we all know how hard it is to walk in the sand, even if you're not carrying something heavy.

Clooney, Cube, Wahlberg, and Jonze all do an adequate job with their roles, surprisingly, as does Cliff Curtis as Amir Abdulah, the leader of the rebels. Dunn also shows depth as the reporter. The cinema by Newton Thomas Sigel is perhaps the most interesting quality; it blends nice desert scenery with unconventional angles and quasi-surrealism. But there's still the issue of credibility. When the conflict in the Persian Gulf is symbolized by Ice Cube throwing a bomb-fitted Nerf football at a helicopter, that's where I stop believing. It's not a bad film from a technical standpoint. I guess I just don't approve of the concept. ***½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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