For all its brave rhetoric about 9/11 and the Constitution, Gavin Hood's slick thriller about American outsourcing of terror interrogations is far more interested in the hydraulics of torture in exotic foreign parts than in serious debate about human and civil rights. The movie turns on the abduction at a U.S. airport of sensitive Egyptian-American chemical engineer Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), whose only good fortune for the duration is to be married to Reese Witherspoon, gamely trying to wring specificity from her waiting-wifey lines. We find him next—naked, shackled, and manhandled in exhaustive detail by dusky fellows answering to an unsentimental prison chief (versatile Israeli actor Igal Naor)—"somewhere in northern Africa." Unlike Hood's far more persuasive gangster picture, Tsotsi, Rendition feels generic and lackluster, more devoted to its preening structural twist than to a tacked-on subplot designed to show that Islamist fundamentalists are people, too. If the movie has a subject, it's American guilt, but even that is tainted by the inevitable arrival, amid all the ugly-American careerists, of a good American to sort things out. Except that Jake Gyllenhaal, as the novice deputed to supervise Anwar's interrogation, is such a glassy-eyed cipher that all I could think of as he crept toward epiphany was, "God, Donnie Darko is turning into Christopher Walken."
Witherspoon takes a very bad call.
Opens at Lincoln Square and other theaters, Fri., Oct. 19. Rated R. 114 minutes.