Leo’s Goatee and Russell’s Gut Can’t Save Ridley’s Scorched Bore

rex 4 Leo’s Goatee and Russell’s Gut Can’t Save Ridley’s Scorched BoreBODY OF LIES
RUNNING TIME 128 minutes
WRITTEN BY William Monaham
DIRECTED BY Ridley Scott
STARRING Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong

Body of Lies is yet another in a long, tiresome line of loud, violent, nauseating and incoherent riffs on how mercenary and inhuman the spooks in the C.I.A. are, even to each other. Pointless and plotless, it’s nothing more than a series of gut-blasting near-death experiences, with Leonardo DiCaprio sporting a goatee for gonads. The idea is that a little facial fur might make him look a little less like a Boy Scout. Wrong. Action director Ridley Scott actually expects us to buy Leo as the toughest secret U.S. intelligence operative in Iraq, a man whose preposterous desert missions make 007 and John Wayne look like the Bobbsey Twins at the beach.

Back home in Langley, his porky, overweight, white-haired boss (played by porky, overweight, white-haired Ridley Scott alumnus Russell Crowe) sends Leo to track down a major terrorist. (Aren’t they all?) Cut to Manchester, England, where suicide bombers blow up an entire street, and they’re not even Irish. Leo is on the case. Cut to Samarra, Iraq. Leo offers an informant asylum in the U.S. It’s a lie. Russell calls from his cell phone, tells him to forget it and orders the guy’s execution. Cut to Amman, Jordan. “I need to take a shit. I need a shower and an Internet connection,” grouses Leo, nursing his bruises from narrowly missing being blown into stew meat. Machine-gunned again while visiting a “towelhead monarchy” in Jordan, he pulls bone fragments out of his wounds and gets viciously attacked by diseased attack dogs, and the Boss back home takes his kids to school and shouts into his Verizon mobile, “Whatever.” Cut to Amsterdam, where a crowded market is blown to hell, giving hundreds of potheads a contact high. “I need a low-key Al Qaeda somewhere between Osama and Oprah,” roars the super-agent dialogue. Cut to the skyscrapers of Dubai, where Leo peroxides his hair and looks like a Brady Bunch rerun. While Leo’s hacking into an Al Qaeda laptop in Dubai, the Boss is stuffing himself with Pepperidge Farm goldfish at a backyard cookout. Cut to Turkey, where Leo dictates messages in English that translate to Arabic on an Arabic computer keyboard. Boy, those secret agents. They think of everything. And you wonder why we’re in a panic about national security?

Here they are again, mechanically manipulated without a shred of logic, in another of those typical Ridley Scott global-espionage comic books that never bother to develop characters, construct a plot or even pretend to prioritize basic elements like narrative coherence. Beyond the assertion that everyone in the C.I.A. is as bad as the people they track, stalk and kill (big news!), the movie offers no ramifications or meaning beyond the specifics of individual acts of violence, and it’s indifferently filmed, with flat visuals and listless pacing. Cynicism reigns and you can’t trust anybody. Unfortunately, Leo makes the mistake of falling for the nurse who gives him painful rabies shots. Predictably, she gets kidnapped by Al Qaeda to lure Leo out of hiding. Cut to Syria, where he offers to trade himself for the girl. Are you still following this? Cut to Leo in an underground cell, where his torturers start chopping off his fingers, one by one, leaving bloody stumps. Cut to Leo, saying, “I quit,” and the Boss, saying, “He’s on his own now.” Cut to the emergency exit, where I’m the first one through the door. No wonder America needs a massive bailout if this is the way we’re wasting billions in the Middle East, saving the world (or destroying what’s left of it) by cell phone. I shudder to think about the roaming charges.

rreed@observer.com