The Hunting Party, Richard Shepard’s rowdy, sharp-edged celebration of journalistic hubris — it’s your basic, everyday comic romp through Bosnia — is based on Scott Anderson’s 2000 Esquire story. But it’s more like a remake of Oliver Stone’s Salvador that’s too jadedly madcap to take itself seriously. Richard Gere, who has reinvented his career, merrily, by playing motor-mouthed hustlers with a heart, has a high old time as Simon Hunt, a fallen TV network correspondent who is hooked on danger. When his old buddy, the ace cameraman Duck (Terrence Howard), pops up in Bosnia to shoot a soft-news feature, Hunt resurfaces with a mad ambition. He wants to land an interview with ”the Fox,” the most wanted of Bosnia’s war criminals — and, just maybe, to capture him in the process.
To call this plan quixotic would be an understatement. The Fox, who is the film’s thinly fictionalized version of Radovan Karadzic, oversaw the rape and slaughter of thousands of Muslims, and is still protected by men devoted to his cause. Trying to get to him is a bit like trying to get to Osama bin Laden. What makes The Hunting Party an original, gonzo treat is the way that Shepard plants the movie’s tone somewhere between hair-trigger investigative danger and the from-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire glee of a Hope/Crosby picture. It’s Road to the Belly of the Beast.
As they drive through the Bosnian countryside, which looks disquietingly like somewhere in Oregon, Gere keeps us guessing whether Hunt’s zeal for the story is ”moral” or simply addictive. Howard, in the second-banana role, is a perfect foil — his slower, guarded rhythms are the equivalent of raised eyebrows — and Jesse Eisenberg, from The Squid and the Whale, shows a crack comic instinct as the network executive’s son who talks his way into traveling with the two men and ends up improvising their most daring gambit. Everyone winds up believing that they’re working for the CIA — a good, lightweight joke. What isn’t so easy to laugh off is the prospect of a movie that uses ethnic cleansing as a springboard for laughs. I left feeling a bit uncomfortable, but the fact that Shepard gets away with it at all is a testament to his talent. B+