Woody Harrelson, James Marsden, Jessica Biel, Milla Jovovich, Rob Reiner, and Tommy Lee Jones. These actors all play key parts in Shock and Awe, a political drama Reiner directs. Unfortunately, they’re all overqualified for this generic vehicle.
Taking place in an early post-9/11 society and drawing comparisons to the current battle of journalistic integrity, Shock and Awe recaps the struggle of reporters Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel (Harrelson and Marsden) as they try to uncover the true intentions of George W. Bush’s Iraq invasion. Harrelson and Marsden have solid chemistry, but they’re also inherently likeable – that’s the gift they bring to the film. Even though they have thankless roles, I actually have more appreciation for Biel and Jovovich for being able to take their characters beyond the “old-fashioned” template of love interests and personal motivators. But, as with the men, this is a compliment towards them as performers.
The problem is with this film’s underwhelming appearance and how the script limits its star-studded cast to being set dressing during scenes of stilted reenactments. The movie is assembled the same way a kid would present their history lesson in full costume: an important touchstone in time anchors the narrative as characters make obvious references to what’s going on until an on-the-nose revelation introduces the next scene. Re-teaming after their indifferently reviewed biopic LBJ, director Reiner and screenwriter Joey Hartstone are genuine about the film’s intentions, but they enable each other’s bad habits as they heavy-handedly milk emotional nuances; even going so far as to insert a gratuitous, canned sub-plot about a young soldier enlisting and fighting in Bush’s war to proudly serve and protect his country.
Shock and Awe isn’t inept. It’s just uninspired and plain, and destined to air on TV during Sunday afternoons.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie