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Dreamboat Diplomacy : Hollywood's newest studio bows with a slick 'Peacemaker,' starring Kidman and Clooney.


"The Peacemaker" is one of those "what was that all about?" movies, where events rush by so fast you're convinced you must have seen something but you're not sure exactly what.

Quick assassinations, coldblooded double-crosses, train wrecks, car chases through crowded streets of European capitals, the fate of civilization as we know it--they've all been shoe-horned into the much-anticipated first film from DreamWorks, Hollywood's newest studio.

Whether viewed as a bellwether for what to expect from the new guys or simply on its own merits, "The Peacemaker" comes across as a strictly genre project done with more than the usual amount of polish and skill. So while it's nice to see a high craft level on an action thriller, it's hard to get excited about something that's so business-as-usual at its core.

The crispness with which events move along can be credited to first-time feature director Mimi Leder and her team, including cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann, editor David Rosenbloom ("Primal Fear") and composer Hans Zimmer, whose score pounds away at a fierce clip.

Leder, who's won Emmys for her work on "ER," the show of the moment on network TV, does not linger on any shot or any situation. Though she has a tendency to feature as many close-ups of worried faces as the Oscar telecast, Leder has a zest for action and does it well.

What "The Peacemaker" doesn't do well, though it tries, is bring much in the way of emotion or character development to the table. While Michael Schiffer's script, based on research done by Andrew Cockburn and Leslie Cockburn on nuclear weapons smuggling out of the former Soviet bloc, is strong on event, its moments of personal agony and regret are uniformly unconvincing.

Mostly, however, what we get in the way of dialogue are people screaming, "It doesn't make sense," and demanding to talk on a secure phone. If you think that means a telephone that's firmly attached to a nearby wall, you've got a lot to learn about the world of international espionage and intrigue.


Here to fill you in are Dr. Julia Kelly (Nicole Kidman), a top scientist and acting head of the White House Nuclear Smuggling Group, and Lt. Col. Thomas Devoe (George Clooney), an intelligence officer with Army Special Forces. Unlikely allies, it takes something as powerful as a 75-kiloton nuclear explosion to blow them together.

That bomb blast in the Urals deep in the former USSR signals that a nefarious scheme is underway to steal nuclear warheads and sell them ($200 million apiece seems to be the going rate) to whatever enemies of truth, justice and the American way can afford to pay the tariff.

Teamed up by the urgency of the situation, Kelly and Devoe tackle the problem via brains (hers) and brawn (his). While the good doctor tries to figure out who would be in the market for a warhead, the lieutenant colonel, a take-charge type who doesn't hesitate to break noses when the mood is on him, gets physical and justifies it by saying: "This is how things work in the real world."

Both Kidman and Clooney give dependable, movie-star performances in these James Bond-ish roles. While Kidman's Dr. Kelly is too much the cliched frazzled female at times, the script balances that with scenes of strength and competence. And though Clooney is the same dark-eyed smiling rogue he's played in just about all his feature roles, it's a characterization that is effective.

Also worth noting is Romanian actor Marcel Iures as Dusan Gavrich, a Serbian piano teacher with a soulful face and a date with destiny. But though "The Peacemaker's" plot is international enough to have technicians credited in 10 countries, the film manages to treat Sarajevo and Pale, the capital of the Bosnian Serb republic, as if they were the same place, which is like confusing Benjamin Netanyahu and Yassir Arafat. With all that hustle and bustle going on, maybe they figured no one would notice.

* MPAA rating: R for strong violence and some language. Times guidelines: considerable murder and mayhem.

'The Peacemaker'

George Clooney: Thomas Devoe

Nicole Kidman: Dr. Julia Kelly

Armin Mueller-Stahl: Dimitri Vertikoff

Marcel Iures: Dusan Gavrich

Alexander Baluev: Alexsander Kodoroff

Rene Medvesek: Vlado Mirich

Released by DreamWorks Pictures. Director Mimi Leder. Producers Walter Parkes, Branko Lustig. Executive producers Michael Grillo, Laurie MacDonald. Screenplay Michael Schiffer. Cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann. Editor David Rosenbloom. Costumes Shelley Komarov. Music Hans Zimmer. Production design Leslie Dilley. Set decorator Rosemary Brandenburg. Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes.


* Playing in general release throughout Southern California.

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