- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

A well-meaning monstrosity, “Beyond Borders,” illustrates the perils of trying to have your cake and eat it while sustaining an awkward posture.

In this case, the filmmakers keep going oopsy-daisy while alternating between high-mindedness and crass commercialism: On one hand, they desire to salute the efforts of international relief workers; on the other, they hope to sell a star-crossed illicit romance between a dedicated physician, played by Clive Owen, and a gorgeous benefactor, Angelina Jolie, who persist in reigniting over a decade (1984-95) as their paths cross in strife-torn Ethiopia, Cambodia and Chechnya.

The living, breathing, misfit embodiment of the movie’s conceptual woes is Miss Jolie, who became a convert to relief activism while reading the screenplay and will be honored this very week as a goodwill ambassador by the United Nations high commissioner for refugees. Her character, Sarah Jordan, the trophy American wife of a socially prominent Brit named Henry Bauford (Linus Roache), ultimately becomes a London-based administrator for the organization.

Initially, Sarah becomes aware of international want at a charity ball crashed by Mr. Owen as the grandstanding hothead Nick Callahan, a doctor who parades a starving Ethiopian child in an effort to shame a particular donor, Sarah’s father-in-law.

The righteously indignant Nick makes a conquest of Sarah, who finances a relief convoy to Africa. Her tenacious care of another malnourished child, rescued from the side of the road, begins to weaken even Nick’s sarcastic defenses.

A mutual attraction simmers for about five years, outlasting Sarah’s new maternal sidelight — she and Henry evidently produce a son between other engagements in London. Reunited on a mission to Cambodia that culminates in a downright Chinese fire drill of a confrontation with Khmer Rouge thugs, who allow the filmmakers to dangle a baby and a hand grenade in lethal proximity, Sarah and Nick finally seize an opportunity to fornicate. Her best fashion statement in this clime is a bulging T-shirt.

Back in Jolly Old L., Sarah returns to expendable and now thoroughly cuckolded Henry, with whom she keeps up appearances for another half-decade. Finally, Nick is in such a fix in Chechnya that only Sarah can bail him out, interrupting her busy schedule for a day trip that proves both treacherous and disappointing. The disappointment stems from her failure to hoist a helpless Nick across her shoulders and lug him from a cabin that appears to be target practice for artillery batteries to a snowbound refugee camp miles away. Sarah does manage another fashion statement with her sizable fur hat.

From the outset, these co-stars have all the chemistry of a dud formula. Mr. Owen’s flintiness seems to trivialize the arrogant vulnerabilities of Dr. Nick. Miss Jolie’s glamour-puss oddities, which oblige you to reconcile narrowed eyes with swollen lips and swoony tendencies with kung-fu shenanigans, invite titters of a more dopey-voluptuous sort.

I did emerge with feelings of fondness for one cast member, the Dutch actor Yorick van Wageningen as the stealth menace, purportedly a nefarious loose cannon of the CIA called Steiger. He keeps turning up in the field, evidently because Nick likes to make contradictory pacts with the devil in order to sustain his good works.

For example, he inexplicably turns to Steiger to run guns to the Khmer Rouge. This kind of thing would seem to betray the imprint of Oliver Stone, who developed the project for several years before leaving it unrealized.

Sort of gives one new respect for Mr. Stone.

*1/2

TITLE: “Beyond Borders”

RATING: R (Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual allusions)

CREDITS: Directed by Martin Campbell. Written by Caspian Tredwell-Owen. Cinematography by Phil Meheux. Production design by Wolf Kroeger. Costume design by Norma Moriceau. Music by James Horner

RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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