Mr. Movie

Enjoy, don't evaluate, 'Traitor'

Movies are supposed to separate you from reality. Traitor accomplishes the task by immersing you in reality and then insisting it be suspended.

Don Cheadle’s (Hotel Rwanda) Samir Horn is a former U.S. Special Operations soldier who might have turned Islamic fundamentalist terrorist. He’s building bombs for the bad guys. They’re targeting Americans around the world and have big plans for a U.S. strike.

Or could Samir be working deep underground for one guy in the CIA?

Guy Pearce (Memento) does FBI agent Roy Clayton who is hot on Samir’s trail. He’s puzzled. Samir’s actions say he’s turned traitor but something isn’t quite right.

Maybe it’s a plot that quickly sinks into an all-too-familiar groove. The film’s focal point is to stick devout Muslim Samir in one uncomfortable vice-like, predictable squeeze after another. The film does give Cheadle another opportunity to demonstrate acting skills so sharp that he should be one of Hollywood’s most in demand and successful stars.

Instead most of you will go, “Don who?”

Saïd Taghmaoui is also terrific as Omar, Samir’s best terrorist friend. The two leads get perfectly understated supporting performances from Pearce -- whose lack of name recognition rivals Cheadle’s -- and Jeff Daniels who is completely wasted and doesn’t have enough to do.

My advice: you’ll enjoy Traitor if don’t think too much after leaving the theater.

When you dig deeper into comedian and story co-author Steve Martin, and co-author and screenwriter and director Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s (The Day After Tomorrow) premise, then it comes unraveled. Their explanation of Samir’s viewpoint and of why these men are terrorists is cliché. Even the baddest of the bad men quickly become mere cardboard cutouts.

The pressure on Samir is tremendous, yet you never worry or sense that he’s in any kind of real danger. Traitor is only enjoyable because of exceptional acting and one very clever plot twist.

That twist is actually worth the price of admission and will take you totally by surprise. But ripping headlines out of today’s newspaper and turning them into a movie rarely makes for an entertaining outing.

Mr. Movie rating: 3 1/2 stars

Rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence. It opens today at the Columbia Mall 8 and at the Fairchild 12.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself