Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”)
Written by: William Monahan (“The Departed”)

The pieces seem to all be in the right place. Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott, a duo who win Oscars together, are set in motion while box office draw and talented actor Leonardo DiCaprio is sharpening his claws for his first film since garnering his own Oscar nod for “Blood Diamond.”

But not everything on paper works well as a final product as we see in “Body of Lies.” It’s a decent espionage thriller that should probably throw all the chips in on its leading men and not necessarily on the volatile and familiar story.

Based on the novel by David Ignatius, “Body of Lies” follows CIA operative Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he keeps tabs on terrorists in the Middle East. Roger is in constant contact by phone with his boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) who sends him on missions while living the easy life back in Washington D.C. out of harm’s way. (Think of Ed as the tubby man-boy living in his mother’s basement playing MMORPGs all day, covered in junk food and not having any sense of the real world outside his cocoon).

When Roger goes on another mission to hunt down a terrorist leader named Al-Saleem (Along Abutbul) in Jordan, he recruits the help of a local intelligence chief named Hani (Mark Strong, who reminds me too much of Andy Garcia) to infiltrate the hard-to-reach locales he must venture. To mislead the terrorists (and to prove he is always one step ahead of everyone) Roger forms his own faux terrorist cell so Al-Saleem, known as “the white whale,” can come out of the woodwork to find out who is trying to undercut his regime.

While this is the central idea of “Lies,” Oscar-winning screenwriter Monahan manages to scramble second-rate political jargon into the talky action film, which is not as intelligent as it leads us to believe.

With DiCaprio as his puppet, Monahan is also able to string us along through the deceptive war with some obscure plot twists and cliché storytelling. Recent films like “The Kingdom” and “Traitor” treaded on the same international concepts, and even with above-average performances by DiCaprio and Crowe, they all feel like they’ve spawned from the same societal need to cover global terrorism cinematically. While “Lies” is a worthy attempt, it is overwritten and very shifty.

Thirteen years after “The Quick and the Dead,” the reunion between DiCaprio and Crowe was actually more intriguing to me that the “Righteous Kill” one with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. It might not be nearly as silly as “Kill,” but one thing the two have in common is heavy-hitting headliners that can only do as much as the script allows.

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