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'The Hunting Party' chooses elusive prey: laughter

Set in a war zone, the comedy, starring Richard Gere, is too glib to work.

By Peter RainerFilm critic of The Christian Science Monitor / September 7, 2007



"The Hunting Party" opens with these cutesy words printed on the screen: "Only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true." Since I found the movie to be pretty much ridiculous from beginning to end, I have to assume it's all true.

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In fact, it jumps off from a 2000 Esquire magazine piece by reporter Scott Anderson about his experiences in Bosnia. Somewhere between that article and this film, though, something got lost in translation.

Richard Gere plays Simon Hunt, a former TV news luminary who five years earlier had a meltdown on camera reporting from a decimated Bosnian village and, as a result, was banished to the fringes of the news biz. The career of his regular cameraman Duck (Terrence Howard) has flourished since then, but he misses the dangerousness of his days with Simon.

Lo and behold, Simon reappears when Duck returns to Sarajevo to cover the fifth anniversary of the end of the war. Promising the scoop of a lifetime despite the dubiousness of his sources, Simon wheedles Duck into helping him track down Bosnia's most-wanted war criminal, "The Fox." Along for the ride is Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), a junior reporter who is the son of a powerful news executive. They are mistaken for Central Intelligence Agency assassins and are in turn targeted by the CIA and just about everybody else.

Despite the you-are-there dramaturgy by writer-director Richard ("The Matador") Shepard, very little of this movie rings remotely true. Gere is acting in the same flamboyantly crowd-pleasing style that he used for Clifford Irving in "The Hoax." Howard, by contrast, is steadfastly earnest. Eisenberg seems to be in the movie to court the youth demographic.

Compared to a great war zone movie about reporters such as "Under Fire," "The Hunting Party" is thin stuff. Shepard wants us to experience the Bosnian conflict as a black comedy for which Simon's reckless goofiness is the only sane response. This dramatic ploy has been far better utilized in, say, "Dr. Strangelove," "M*A*S*H," or "Catch-22" (the book, not the movie). Shepard simply doesn't have the temperament for black comedy: The nightmarishness and the jokes never coalesce into a vision.

As a result, the movie often seems glib in the face of tragedy. And when, near the end, Shepard tries to pour on the hearts and flowers by showing us just what made Simon crack up on camera, the bathos is icky. The whole movie is icky. Grade: D+

"The Hunting Party" is not rated.

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