This dark comedy succeeds with an unusual blend of brutal war footage and silly satire.
On paper, there's no way that "The Hunting Party" should work. But onscreen, it defies the odds.
It does suffer from stereotypical characters, clichéd situations and bizarre segues from gruesome reality to flippant satire. But a strong performance by Terrence Howard combines with the quirky sensibilities of writer/director Richard Shepard to make for an interesting offering.
It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. For starters, there's the setting: a crazy-quilt backdrop that juxtaposes disturbing images of the war in Bosnia with a silly spoof of bureaucratic ineptitude. One minute we're looking at mutilated corpses strewn across a city street; the next we're meeting a U.N. peacekeeping officer channeling Sgt. ("I know nothing") Schultz.
The story involves a two-man TV news crew. Reporter Simon Hunt (Richard Gere) is equal parts Evel Knievel and Hunter S. Thompson. The network tolerates his loose-cannon behavior because he gets stories that other reporters don't. That usually involves putting himself in the middle of gunfire, a move that has earned his cameraman (Howard) the nickname Duck.
Simon suffers a breakdown during a live report from the site of a massacre and is fired after cursing network executives on the air. Duck lands a cushy job working for the nightly news. He loses track of Simon, who has become a freelancer chasing wars around the world.
The narrative leapfrogs to 2000 and the fifth anniversary of the end of the war. The network sends its news anchor (a cameo by James Brolin) to do a report, and Duck goes along. They're accompanied by a rookie producer, Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg).
Simon surprises Duck with a visit and tells him that a source has tipped him off about the location of a war criminal responsible for murdering countless civilians. Simon talks Duck into accompanying him, with Benjamin tagging along.
The trio is mistaken for CIA agents sent to assassinate the war criminal, and they find themselves in the midst of a Rambo-esque thriller. This is the film's weakest stretch, with both the characters and the action lacking credibility.
Although Gere gets top billing, Howard (Oscar-nominated for "Hustle & Flow") carries the movie. The story is told from Duck's point of view, with Simon dropping in and out.
Shepard has merged violence and sarcasm before, most recently in 2005's "Matador." The biggest challenge is knowing where to draw the line between the two, and he demonstrates an intuition in that regard. Then again, in his mind, nothing he can cook up could ever be as insane as what really happened. Thus, he opens the movie with a statement that some of the story is true and some of it is made up, noting that "only the most ridiculous parts are true."
Jeff Strickler 612-673-7392