Turkish honor is redeemed when a special agent kicks serious U.S. butt in "Valley of the Wolves: Iraq," a mildly enjoyable slice of hokum that's been making turnstiles sing in Turkey (and on overseas ethnic circuits) since its local bow Feb. 3. A Mid-East equivalent of all those U.S. vid-fodder items in which a gung-ho Yank blows away baddies in Third World countries, pic is solid genre fare with, at best, ancillary mileage as a curio among Western film buffs. Reported record budget for a Turkish pic ($10 million) is largely up on the screen.
Many non-Western industries have long had a tradition of local heroes taking on superpowers or setting local wrongs to right -- though the pics rarely surface offshore. "Wolves" has caused a media/blogging stormlet because of its timely setting (Northern Iraq), because two "name" U.S. actors (Billy Zane, Gary Busey) play the American villains, and because the pic is getting more than normal exposure through the overseas Turkish circuit.
In the noble tradition of mainstream genre cinema, the script takes a real-life event as a starting point and then spins off into Loony-Tunes land. On July 4, 2003, U.S. forces surrounded the HQ of an undercover Turkish unit in Sulaymaniyah, northern Iraq, led its 11 members out with hoods on their heads, and had them deported, even though Turkey was officially an ally in the war. The so-called "Hood Event" was seen by Turks as a national humiliation.
Pic starts with a tense re-creation of the event, as later recalled by an officer, Suleyman Aslan (Tayfun Eraslan), while penning a letter to his friend, Polat Alemdar (Necati Sasmaz, wooden), prior to blowing his brains out in shame. Special agent Polat -- the mafia-busting hero of popular TV series "Valley of the Wolves" -- swings into action, and drives with loyal buddies Memati (Gurkan Uygun) and Abdulhey (Kenan Coban) to Kurdistan, where they start by killing the border guards.
Polat's target is secret CIA unit head Sam William Marshall (Zane, smoothly evil), a Mideast vet and rabid Christian who wants to solve the region's problems through a scorched-earth policy. Soon after Polat arrives, Sam interrupts the wedding party of Leila (Berguzar Korel, dignified), the adopted daughter of a tolerant local Muslim leader (Ghassan Massoud, ditto), on the grounds terrorists may be lurking.
When one of Sam's trigger-happy operatives shoots a boy, all hell breaks loose and Leila's husband ends up dead. She swears revenge on Sam, even though her adoptive father warns her that's not the way of Islam.
Polat tries to force Sam into a retaliatory "hood event" by threatening to blow the hotel in which they meet. When that doesn't work, Polat & Co. try various assassination attempts before a nocturnal finale in a village.
On the one hand, the basic format is peppered with some pure trash-exploitation elements, such as a strung-out U.S.-Jewish doctor (Busey) at Abu Ghraib who's trafficking inmates' organs to London, New York and Tel Aviv. Busey's few scenes -- and the whole tiny, undeveloped subplot -- are disposable.
On the other hand, the pic contains several scenes arguing religious convictions on both sides -- far more dignified on the Muslim side -- and, in its portrayal of Polat & Co., conspicuously avoids any Rambo-esque heroics.
Action scenes are staged OK but without much flair, in a semi-realistic way. Pointedly, Gokhan Kirdar's score is ethnic-melancholy, not blazingly symphonic. Effects are serviceable, and production and costume design flavorsome. At two hours, the running time is a little leisurely. In the original version caught, both Zane and Busey were dubbed into Turkish.
Camera (color), Selahattin Sancakli; editor, Kemalettin Osmanli; music, Gokhan Kirdar; art directors, Yavuz Fazlioglu, Tan Taspolatoglu; set decorator, Tekin Kama; costume designer, Ebru Kayahan; sound (Dolby Digital), Alan O'Duffy, Robert Jager; sound designers, Kai Schoorman, Hans Schumman, Jager; special effects supervisor, Mark Meddings; visual effects supervisor, Sinan Vural (Imaj Istanbul); stunt co-ordinator, Dusan Hyska; associate producers, Hasan Kacan, Mehmet Canpolat; assistant director, Sadullah Senturk; casting, Erdem Erguney. Reviewed at UCI-Kinowelt Zoo-Palast 9, Berlin, Feb. 17, 2006. (In Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 122 MIN.