Movie review: ‘Hunting Party’ misfires

Al Alexander

The key to great satire is finding the right tone. If you’re too corny or overly serious, you’re sunk. But if you strike the perfect balance, you wind up with masterpieces like “Dr. Strangelove” and “Wag the Dog.”

“The Hunting Party,” writer-director Richard Shepard’s follow-up to his terrific “The Matador,” unfortunately, falls into the former category. It consistently misses the mark and misses it badly.

It’s a shame, because the intent to chide the strange reluctance of the U.S. government to hunt down and capture war criminals not named Saddam Hussein would seem timely and relevant coming as it does so near the anniversary of 9/11.

It’s been six years since that traumatic day, yet the architect of the attacks, Osama bin Laden, remains free to traipse through his luxurious caves and make videos that rival Britney’s for their repulsiveness.

Why hasn’t this man been apprehended? That’s the underlying question that envelops “The Hunting Party,” which may be about the rounding up -- or lack thereof -- of Serbian war criminals but is just as much a dig at the current administration’s feet dragging when it comes to nailing bin Laden.

While the film seldom fails to educate and enlighten, it never coalesces into a compelling story despite a cast that includes Richard Gere, Terrence Howard and Jesse Eisenberg.

They play TV journalists of varying skills and experience. The leader is Gere’s Simon Hunt, a war correspondent who lost his credibility (and his job) the day he had a nervous breakdown on camera. Now a freelancer hoping to sell any story he can think of to the highest bidder, Hunt, true to his name, has devised a wild scheme to find Serbia’s most notorious war criminal, nicknamed The Fox.

What he’ll do once he finds him, he hasn’t decided. Will he merely seek an interview or will he try to apprehend him and collect the handsome price that’s been placed on the mass killer’s head? Either way, he hopes to have his old pal and cameraman, Duck (Howard), now in a cushy job at network headquarters back in New York, help him do it.

In the first of dozens of implausible occurrences, Duck agrees, and reluctantly brings along a pestering rookie reporter (Eisenberg) from Harvard who happens to be the son of a network muck-a-muck. His name is Benjamin, the only character without a moniker associated with hunting.

What ensues is your basic squabbling-buddy road trip, only this time it winds from the war-scarred villages near Sarajevo (the scene of mass genocide in the early 1990s) to the pristine mountain enclaves of Serbia, where the Christian slayers of their Muslim brothers retreated to guiltlessly wash the blood from their hands.

Based on a true story about five journalists that in a matter of days managed to ferret out a Serbian war criminal that had eluded capture despite all the high-tech spy ware and ingenuity at the disposal of the U.S. government, “The Hunting Party” irritatingly strives for hipness over substance.

Why Shepard opted to turn their fascinating story into a satire instead of a straightforward political picture is a mystery, because there’s nothing here that could possibly be construed as humorous, given the grievousness of a crime that left more than 3,000 children murdered in Sarajevo alone.

If anything, Shepard’s cavalier attitude only stirs anger at both his flippant approach to the material and the waste of three really fine actors.

Thank goodness they’re here, though, because they’re the only things that keep this “Party” in the hunt.

The Patriot Ledger

THE HUNTING PARTY

R for strong language and some violent content. Cast includes Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, Jesse Eisenberg and Diane Kruger. Written and directed by Richard Shepard. 2 stars.