Foxx leads 'Kingdom' stars at premiere

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As a wave of movies about the Middle East begins to march into movie theaters this fall, Universal Pictures' held a premiere screening of "The Kingdom" Monday night in Westwood.

The Peter Berg-helmed political thriller screened at the Mann Village followed by a Middle Eastern-flavored afterparty at the nearby Hammer Museum.

"Kingdom" is among the first of a lineup of films about both Middle Eastern politics and the war in Iraq -- upcoming titles include "In the Valley of Elah," "Rendition" and "Redacted" -- but Universal hopes that "Kingdom" can distinguish itself from the crowd by emphasizing its action roots.

The film, which stars Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman and Chris Cooper, concerns an FBI team that travels to Saudi Arabia to investigate a terrorist attack on a Western housing facility in Riyadh.

"It's a tricky sell: if you sell it is as a straight action film, it doesn't feel entirely accurate, but to sell it as a complex political expose is not accurate either," Berg said. "So the studio is trying to find the right tone (in the marketing)."

"What Pete did was he make an entertaining movie, first and foremost," said Scott Stuber, who produced the film with Michael Mann and actually bought the project when he was president of production at the studio before setting up his own production company with producing partner Mary Parent.

"He then layered an entertaining movie where your brain can actually be active and your heart can be active. And when you can make a movie where you are not only entertained but also made to think and feel, that's when you hit the bull's eye," Stuber said.

Berg said he "wanted to make a film that explored the dominant story of my entire life, which has been the Middle East. And I didn't want to make a heavy political film, I didn't want to pound my personal views down the throat of the audience. I never meant to tackle any heavy issues, I just wanted to make thriller about FBI agents doing their job."

Stuber added, "He wanted take on these two different characters that were from two different cultures, and show that, whether it's a police officer in Beijing, Riyahd, or Detroit, wherever it may be, they wake up the same way every day. They want to serve and protect and they want to take care of their family."

If the high wattage power of the film's headliners like Foxx and Garner weren't enough, Will Smith, who is starring Berg's super-hero film "Hancock, showed up at the screening with wife Jada Pinkett Smith. Ever the gentleman, Smith stopped with his wife at the theater's deepest concession stand, asking her if she wanted a drink. He got her a Sierra Mist.
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