Here's a doomsday scenario for you: What would the result be if you made "The Kingdom" but took out the car chases and explosions?
The answer is Robert Redford's "Lions for Lambs," a movie heavy on the gabba-gabba but offering little in the way of content that will make you say "Hey!"
The film is written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, who, after turning the Middle East conflict into an episode of "CSI" with "The Kingdom," now seems determined to offer penance in the form of a windy screenplay full of shallow talking points best left to Hannity & Colmes.
Politically minded audiences will learn nothing new from "Lions for Lambs." And those it might best serve -- young people -- probably aren't itching to see a movie starring Meryl Streep, Redford and a Tom Cruise not leaping from tall buildings (or even jumping on a couch).
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Still, when Redford, playing a professor, hectors one of his apathetic students, saying, "Rome is burning, son, and the problem is us -- those who are fiddling," it's easy to imagine that somewhere, one college student might see this movie and, later that night, roll off the sofa, turn off "TMZ on TV" and crack open Paul Krugman.
OK, that's a pipe dream.
You have to wonder what pipe Redford was smoking when he decided to make Carnahan's stagy, didactic screenplay into a movie. A film like "Lions for Lambs" only preaches to the choir, and even at that, true believers will be hard-pressed to sing the film's praises.
The movie is divided into three segments, with the action occurring at the same time in each locale. At an unnamed West Coast university, Professor Redford (that isn't the character's name, but it might as well be) confronts an apathetic student (Andrew Garfield), wondering why the young whippersnapper has blown off his class. (Hint: It's probably as boring as this film.)
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a neo-con Republican senator (Cruise) lays out a new war strategy to a TV journalist (Streep), telling her: "You sold the war. Now help me sell the solution." Her response to the administration's new strategy: "What about looking at the past?"
Meanwhile, the new war strategy goes forward in Afghanistan. Two soldiers (Derek Luke and Michael Pena) fight for their lives, the casualties of Washington's latest boneheaded plan.
Redford hits all the obvious points -- the news media's complicity in the current Middle East mess, the Bushies' desperation for victory without planning for an aftermath, the apathy of young people, the inhumanity of politicians who have never served asking the ultimate sacrifice of those in the military.
It's a film that wears its earnestness as a badge of honor, which is fine for public service but not so interesting in terms of art.
So "Lions for Lambs" is Hollywood's latest casualty of war, a movie undone not by its heart (which is in the right place) but by its obvious and one-sided presentation. This is not the antidote to apathy.