Review: 'The Hunting Party' engaging

Genocide and comedy don’t mix well, and “The Hunting Party,” written and directed by Richard Shepard, can sometimes be queasy-going as its buddy protagonists banter and romp their way through shell-shocked Bosnia. The film also suffers from a cheap plot turn and a dearth of profundity.

Yet Shepard is no dullard or dimwit, and the colorful bits of action, politics and zany camaraderie add up. Consider this movie a captivating jumble.

Based, rather loosely, on an Esquire article, the film stars Richard Gere as danger-loving reporter Simon Hunt and Terrence Howard as strait-laced cameraman Duck — a dynamite war-zone team until Simon, in a ravaged Bosnian town, crumbles on live TV. The meltdown lands Simon in freelance obscurity. Duck gets a comfy studio gig.

Several years later, the pair reunite in Sarajevo, and a wearier but still-crazy Simon convinces Duck to join him on a journey tothe scoop of a lifetime: a meeting with a notorious war criminal (Ljubomir Kerekes) hiding in the mountains. Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), a network VP’s fresh-out-of-Harvard son, accompanies them on the treacherous mission.

Misadventures occur, of course. A U.N. operative (Mark Ivanir) mistakes the trio for CIA agents, and the guys perpetuate the misunderstanding, for starters.

Tonally, the movie doesn’t gel, and, like Shepard’s “The Matador,” it isn’t as edgy as it thinks it is. A wrongheaded twist takes the story into revenge terrain, cheapening the film’s treatment of Bosnia’s tragedy. Gere, in a role that a typecast Robert Downey Jr. would ace, doesn’t convey in Simon the necessary depth or gonzo element.

But Shepard still hits more than it misses. Flawed but never boring, the movie’s a stimulating, relevant action satire.

The manhunt scenes have vim, and Shepard generally pulls off his nuttier material. And while the comedy clashes with the grimmer stuff, it doesn’t, thankfully, obscure it. War-scarred landscapes underscore the tragedy of the Balkan setting.

Shepard’s suggestion that governments, for political reasons, have allowed war criminals to remain unapprehended, is surely noteworthy. Jabs at the CIA and U.S. media — represented, respectively, by Dylan Baker and James Brolin (as a pompous anchorman) in small roles — contain spark.

For stronger fare about the absurdity of war, or how war warps the psyche, rent “Three Kings,” “Cabaret Balkan” or “Underground.” But for a current take on this pertinent subject, “The Hunting Party” contains enough sterling moments to qualify as ticket-worthy and memorable.

The Hunting Party ***

Starring Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, Jesse Eisenberg

Written and directed by Richard Shepard; inspired by an Esquire article by Scott Anderson

Rated R

Running time 1 hour, 43 minutes

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