The Gulf War has just ended, almost before it began. The jubilant American troops interrupt their celebrations only to disarm surrendering Iraqi soldiers. The adventure begins when three soldiers (family man Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), religious Chief Elgin (Ice Cube), and simpleminded redneck Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze)) discover a mysterious map secreted on an Iraqi soldier.
Special Forces officer Archie Gates (George Clooney) only has two weeks left before retirement, and has nothing to show for it. He's assigned to spend his last days as an official escort for the driven reporter Adriana Cruz (Nora Dunn), but his ears prick up when he hears rumors of hidden bunkers filled with stolen Kuwaiti gold. With a little quick investigating, he soon locates Barlow, Elgin, Vig and the map, and the four form a partnership.
So, the four soldiers venture out into the desert of Iraq, to steal for themselves the stolen gold. Pretending to be on official U.S. business, they hope to breeze by any Iraqi opposition. Besides, the Iraqi soldiers are busy suppressing any revolution attempts by the citizens of Iraq. Although, the ceasefire forbids any American involvement in the local uprising, the four thieves are moved by the plight of the people. Will they stick to their plan, or will their consciences get the better of them?
Three Kings may be an action film, but it's a very stylistic action film...at times, too much of one. Many of the film's gimmick shots don't work. For example, at several points the film switches to an "internal body cam" (actually recording the organs of a human cadaver), to show bullet damage and the like. The shots are interesting, and certainly bizarre, but they clash with the rest of the film. It's a case where the technique overshadows any benefits from the scene.
However, when the gimmicky shots work, they work well. They lend a surreal atmosphere to the proceedings; nothing ever seems quite right. No matter how you force the puzzle together, there's always one piece left over. The style keeps you on edge, which is right where director David O. Russell wants you to be.
Three Kings wants to have things both ways. It wants to be a lighthearted feel good action romp, while at the same time giving deep and meanignful insight into the issues on both sides of the Gulf War. While both stories work separately, the transition between them can occasionally cause whiplash to the unsuspecting viewer.
Clooney, Wahlberg and Ice Cube fit surprisingly well in the film. None of their roles seem to be that much of a stretch, and all give solid, believable performances. However, the show is quickly stolen by the fourth soldier in the group, Spike Jonze as Vig. He may have the misfortune to be the fourth "king" in a movie entitled Three Kings, but he possesses the majority of the film's best lines, and singlehandedly steals every scene he's in.
War story, heist thriller, action comedy, human interest drama, media satire, and stylistic groundbreaker, Three Kings has no hope of filling all the roles it tries to occupy. However, it fills plenty enough to be a good movie, and then some.
[R - graphic war violence, language and some sexuality] (WB)