Ridley Scott's "Body of Lies," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, pits the CIA against the jihadists, and I'll say this much for it: It's a lot easier to follow than "Syriana." But intelligibility is about the only thing this international thriller has going for it. It may open with a quote from W.H. Auden but that's just window-dressing (or salad dressing?). What follows is a high-priced potboiler that never comes to a boil.
Scott and his screenwriter William ("The Departed") Monahan never pass up the opportunity to stage a high-speed chase scene or blow something to smithereens, which means that most of this movie resembles a trailer for itself. DiCaprio's CIA operative, Roger Ferris, is an expert Arabist stationed in the Middle East whose specialty is infiltrating terrorist cells. His counterpart back at Langley is Crowe's Ed Hoffman, whose cellphone seems to be epoxied to his ear. Crowe wears geeky glasses and looks to have put on about 50 pounds for the role. Who wants to see Russell Crowe playing a schlub?
Roger's latest mission is to collar an Islamist bigwig with the help of Jordanian intelligence chief Hani Salaam (tailored by Savile Row and played with panache by the British actor Mark Strong). Hani keeps reminding Roger that he doesn't tolerate deception and so, of course, we await an inevitable series of deceptions. This movie, based on a novel by David Ignatius, a veteran reporter who covered the CIA and the Middle East, blows the lid off a well-kept secret of espionage. Are you sitting down for this? Spies lie.
Just in case we might feel a tad guilty watching all the skidding U-turns and kabooms, Scott occasionally introduces a note of gravitas, such as the moment when Hani informs Roger that, when it comes to procuring information, torture doesn't work. Take that, you Americans!
Scott also works in a stupendously hackneyed romantic subplot involving a pretty nurse (Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani) who ministers to his many wounds. But what about the wounds inflicted on the audience? Grade: C- (Rated R for strong violence, including some torture, and for language throughout.)