Is US ready for a farce about nuclear threats?

"The Sum of all Fears" has blitzed the box office, suggesting that Americans are ready for a harrowing thriller about the prospect of a nuclear attack on a US city. If this week's "Bad Company" opens big as well, it will suggest that Americans are ready for the next step – a harrowing comedy about the prospect of a nuclear attack on a US city.

It's not all comedy, of course. The genre-bending filmmakers have surrounded their preposterous premise with scenes of action and suspense.

Still, this is more a farce than a morality tale.

That's bad news for those who prefer Anthony Hopkins's crisp locution to Chris Rock's over-the-top schtick – and for anyone who thinks it's distasteful to stage a nuclear-weapon chase scene a stone's throw from where the World Trade Center once stood.

Rock plays Jake Hayes, a streetwise hustler who never knew he had an identical twin until the CIA recruits him to replace his lookalike brother – a secret agent killed in the line of duty – on a dangerous mission.

Eight days and many etiquette lessons later, Jake is ready to close in on a contraband nuclear device. Beside him is a CIA veteran (Hopkins) trying to keep him under control. Behind him is a terrorist team ready to nuke everyone in sight if their suspicions are aroused.

True to the picture's schizophrenic tone, Rock and Hopkins give performances so utterly different, you'd think they were spliced together from two different movies. Rock does his patented mugging and ranting, while Hopkins radiates the soft-spoken intelligence and bone-deep dignity that have made him an enduring star.

It's an intriguing combination, and it's fun to watch for a while. But the movie runs much too long, and a few funny bits aside, most of the comedy writing is lame.

In any case, nothing in the movie is as gripping as the question it raises about current sensibilities. If audiences line up to laugh at "Bad Company" this weekend, it will be hard to claim that Americans remain traumatized by terrorism.

• Rated PG-13; contains sexuality, vulgarity, and violence.

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