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I Never Looked For My Mother
And Other Regrets of a Journalist
by Joseph P. Ritz
(Paperback from Amazon)
. "The Hunting Party"

One of the first considerations in the conception of a story with political implications for a mass audience is the villain and his or her (or their) national identity. Critical in the equation is to select a nation widely, if not universally, considered anathema at the time the story is written. This in mind, writers these days safely resort to Iranian terrorists, North Koreans, or Al Qaidas anywhere.

Writer-director Richard Shepard's hunting party, however, digs a little deeper than the headlines and comes up with an arch Serbian -- an iconic cutout for the homicidal maniacs who once ruled that country. Here, he's Lisica (Ljubomir Kerekes), also called "The Fox" for his propensity to hunt said animal and for outfoxing all who would attempt to find him. The bounty on his head is $5 million which we may assume to be dead or alive.

This criminal in the eyes of Western justice but not by many of his countrymen, holds absolute sway in his wooded hideout, well protected by a cadre of devoted and easy-to-anger followers. But, in an outline that reeks of commercial pulp, this doesn't sway down-on-his-luck Simon Hunt (Richard Gere) who once was a leading TV journalist. That rep was created out of his daring exploits in global hotspots, including Bosnia, with his able and amiable sidekick, cameraman "Duck" (an amiable Terrence Howard).

But, in a scene of utter devastation that includes the blood and bodies of children, Hunt, atempting to talk his way through an emotional and alcoholic hangover on live TV, loses it and makes a fool of himself. Already in trouble for preceding signs of a mental meltdown, he is fired from his network perch and scrambles for a living on any media outlet that will have him.

After years pass and unshaven stubble grows, with Duck rising to the highest levels of his profession, now in league with super-anchor Franklin Harris (James Brolin), the paths of these two old buddies cross. Duck's and Harris' team now also includes the young, impetuous son of a high network executive as an intern cum potential troublemaker (Jesse Eisenberg).

Hunt seizes his opportunity for a possible come-back by claiming to know where the Fox is hinding out and that it would be possible to bring the renegade to justice and collect the bounty on his head. As if.

But, Hunt is pursuasive enough (at least in a fictional sense) to make it happen and the story centers around the action and dangers the hunt for the Fox generates.

On the surface, the premise is so much of a reach you expect it to snap apart. But there's something keeping it together and that glue includes Shephard's smart writing, pace and casting choices. Gere's car-salesman's patter calls forth memories of his fraud maestro Clifford Irving in "The Hoax" but, face it, the man has the appeal to keep us in suspension of disbelief mode for a movie's length. That, and the balance he and Howard maintain keeps it amusing enough for sustained attention despite such unlikely suppositions. Far worse can be imagined.

Eisenberg, who we imagine is going to be a casting misstep, holds him own in the mix. Diane Kruger, the femme fatale of the peace is at no time realistic but she puts what she has to work and is a stunner to watch.

It may be noted that this subject for an action comedy has an itch that can't be rubbed merely with the ointment of the box office success it seems destined for. It is, perhaps, a too vivid reminder that its villainous character represents a very real genocidal criminal who still roams free after his devastations in the name of ethnic cleansing. We don't amuse ourselves with pursuits of Osama ben Laden because he's no laughing matter. A ben Laden villain would suffocate humor like a wet khafiya.

But Shepherd and company have found a way to cast the issues of justice and politics into a minor role, the better to keep us absorbed in the agile satire. Whether he should have exercised his talent to do so is a matter for each viewer's sensibilities to decide.

You almost catch yourself in a laugh at reality's expense but just remind yourself that this isn't intended to be harsh political medicine even as it feeds off an actual pragmatic deal with the devil. If you go along with the high superciciality of the fabrication, there's much in the buddy-action movie to enjoy. Contemplation of the larger issues that will for sure depress you can wait.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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