Sunday, April 12, 2009


Stolen Russian nukes are up for grabs in the George Clooney & Nicole Kidman escapade “The Peacemaker,” a sloppy but serviceable global thriller that drowns its audience in sentiment rather than buoys them with entertainment. Despite the millions the DreamWorks Pictures sunk into their first major film release, director Mimi Leder in her cinematic debut struggles with a second-hand, warmed over story. The cliffhanger predicaments and their resolutions emerge as more hackneyed and pretentious than virile and exciting. Enough with these adventure sagas set in the new Russia! Few surprises enliven this downbeat, humorless, technical Tom Clancy clone. Although “The Peacemaker” boasts a couple of decent scenes, the film grovels under a heavy-handed script, dull villains and equal opportunity his’n her plotting.

The Michael (“Crimson Tide”) Schiffer screenplay follows the strenuous efforts of U.S. Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel Tom Devoe (George Clooney of “ER”) and scientist Dr. Julia Kelly (Nicole Kidman of “Far & Away”) to recover 10 nukes that corrupt Soviet General Aleksandr Kodoroff (Aleksandr Baluyev 0f “Deep Impact”) has purloined. The action ignites with sizzling promise as a team of commandos armed with machine guns and night goggles stages a daring night train robbery. With the red laser beam sighting systems on their guns and the twinkle of red from their night vision equipment, they manage to evoke an evil, sinister look. General Kodoroff explodes one of the nukes to delay the response time of the authorities, so his henchmen and he can spirit the stolen warheads out of Mother Russia.

Meanwhile, an assassin guns down a member of the Bosnian parliament scheduled to attend a United Nations peace conference. Piano teacher Dusan Gavrich (Marcel Iures of “Hart’s War”) replaces him. Dusan’s wife and child die as innocent bystanders in a street shooting; Dusan resolves to spread the tragedy of Bosnia beyond his borders so the world can experience his pain and anguish. His cohorts lay claim to one of Kodoroff’s nukes. Dusan intends to sneak a warhead into the United States and trigger it at the United Nations. Consequently, as one of the members of the Bosnian diplomatic team, Dusan represents the title character.

“The Peacemaker” evolved from journalistic exposes by political reporters Andrew and Leslie Cockburn. Schiffer’s predictable script recycles familiar elements from the 1983 James Bond thriller “Octopussy” where the villains attempted a nuclear blast to inflame the anti-nuclear protest groups and compel Western nuclear disarmament. Of course, “The Peacemaker” occurs against the backdrop of the anything goes ‘new’ Russia, a setting a little overdone recently by “GoldenEye,” “The Saint,” “Crimson Tide,” and “The Hunt for Red October.” The stolen nukes theme can be traced back to the 1965 Bond epic “Thunderball” as well as the more recent John Travolta extravaganza “Broken Arrow.” The reliance on satellite technology as well as cooperation between the military and civilians at the highest levels of the government has the Clancy imprimatur inscribed on it. Little more than Jack Ryan with a sex change, Nicole Kidman’s Dr. Julia Kelly combines literary detective Nancy Drew with the sexy 1960s TV heroine Honey West.

Feminist touches such as allowing the characters to savor quiet moments when they can cry are out of character for this kind of adventure that DreamWorks has served up. “The Peacemaker” could be accurately described as a macho chase melodrama that collides with a soapy chick flick. Quite often Leder aims for the cerebellum when she should smash the solar plexus. The best scenes in “The Peacemaker” bristle with volatile action. Nevertheless, even they falter between the lack of zip in the directing and the absence of zing in the plot.

Unfortunately, even the heroes are compromised in “The Peacemaker.” First, Clooney and Kidman never generate any chemistry. Second, forget any love subplot that would catapult them into a bare and share nude coupling. At best, these two bitch at each other. Eventually, they earn each other’s respect. They are about as much fun as two drenched cats. Clooney is the brawn of the movie, a rogue Boy Scout who alternates between a rough spartan action figure and a sensitive guy. He possesses the on-camera grace of a James Coburn, but his character is saddled with too many inconsistent quirks. Kidman has the better role as the brains of the film. She evolves from a passive scientist to an active “His Girl Friday” action heroine. If General Kodoroff is Devoe’s primary nemesis, then Dusan serves as Dr. Kelly’s arch foe. Equal opportunity plotting expands the running time of the film and makes “The Peacemaker” seem like two movies for the price of one when neither proves remotely rewarding.

Composer Hans Zimmer deserves credit for a strident but pulsating instrumental score that effectively strokes the film’s action sequences. The demolition derby in the streets of Vienna is still a yawner, marginally redeemed by Clooney’s bad boy antics. Clooney’s Lt. Col. Devoe cannot miss a shot until the end of the movie when he fails inexplicably to nail a full-sized man scrambling past him in an alley!
If sobbing heroes and heroines aren’t enough, director Leder and scenarist Schiffer deploy a villain who is more of a sob than an S.O.B. As Dusan Gavrich, Iures creates a bland antagonist. He resembles the later horror movie icon Boris Karloff, and he looks incredibly lugubrious with his totem mask of a face. There’s nothing charismatic about Dusan, so the filmmakers have stacked the cards in this drama against themselves. You cannot really hate the Dusan Gavrich character in a way that a great villain should be despised.

Even in his death scene, Dusan is compared with Christ on the cross, so you can neither sneer nor jeer at his motives. Iures’ soulful performance stirs up more pity than rage. When Hollywood uses a no-name actor as the villain and gives him a conscience, it sacrifices a major trump card. Nobody goes to thrillers to watch the heroes. People go to indulge in the enormity of the villains. Not so here in “The Peacemaker.”

Worse, as so many recent Bond movies have done, splitting the duties between the villains makes for not only one too many villains, but also one too many anti-climaxes. Although Aleksandr Baluyev’s renegade Russian general makes a more acceptable villain, he is a no-name actor, too, who American audiences can neither identify with nor boo with any emotional intensity. “The Peacemaker” has villains that pose little threat; they simply slip the plot into gear four our her’n her heroes.

When Leder stresses the human elements in “The Peacemaker,” she allows her audience to think instead of react. Thinking audiences are less susceptible to the hokey rollercoaster machinations that convulse “The Peacemaker.” In a good adventure movie, audiences mentally dodge what the heroes must physically evade. Moreover, members at an action movie are better served when they flinch instead of furrow their brows. Otherwise, they’d realize how phony the predicaments are and that they could never occur in real life. Our heroes deduce who the terrorist is with a nuke in his backpack, but they underestimate him so often that their efforts strike a ludicrous note. When somebody dies in the line of action, our hero and heroine break down and cry.

Even the title “The Peacemaker” with its inherent irony not only conveys little pizzazz, but its significance may also be lost on audiences. Director Leder well-intentioned message about the horrors of a nuclear blast would make a better disaster of the week television movie than a globe-trotting Clancy/Bond wannabe thriller. Undiscriminating audiences looking for a distracting bit of action with exotic scenery and juvenile heroes may appreciate “The Peacemaker” until the tragedy dampens the aura of escapism. Veteran action adventure moviegoers will find “The Peacemaker” more disappointing than tolerable. For all the film’s smart moves and cool looking imagery, “The Peacemaker” is too derivative to be a milestone in the thriller genre.