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Beyond Borders is beyond belief. Here’s how it starts: Dr. Nick Callahan (Clive Owen), a humanitarian aid worker, crashes a ritzy charity benefit in London in 1984. With Jo Jo, his 10-year-old emaciated African, in tow, he denounces the tuxedo’d gathering for their hypocrisy until some wag tosses Jo Jo a banana. Callahan makes Jo Jo eat the banana and act like a monkey. That’ll show them! Then he’s stomped by security (and we’re rooting for them at this point), whereupon Jo Jo is hauled away by immigration, escapes, and is found frozen to death under a causeway.

Naturally, this inspires idle socialite Sarah Jordan (Angelina Jolie) to become involved. Or maybe it’s Callahan’s sullen good looks and boorish behavior. Let’s just say Sarah’s upper-class-twit husband, Henry (Linus Roache), isn’t much competition. So every few years or so, Sarah heads off to, oh, Ethiopia or Cambodia or Chechnya to check in on how Nick is doing and respond to scenes of photogenic human suffering with close-ups of her pneumatic lips, welling eyes, and flawless make-up. ("Are you wearing perfume in the desert?" Nick asks, incredulous. Yes! And an immaculately white designer suit!)

Friction arises when Sarah discovers that Nick covers the overhead by running guns for the CIA. But how else could he save lives? How else could we include gratuitous action scenes and a bogus moral conflict? In the end, neither minefields nor Russian artillery nor subhuman Chechen bandits can deny their love. How proud Jo Jo would be to know that he’d brought such a handsome couple together.

Let’s give director Martin Campbell and everyone else involved the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re not cynical but merely deluded. Perhaps they sincerely believe this grotesquely manipulative crap will move hearts to charity. Nonetheless, they should be required to see a genuinely heartbreaking documentary on the subject — Fabrizio Lazzaretti & Alberto Vendemmiati’s Jung (War): In the Land of the Mujaheddin, or Christian Frei’s War Photographer — before ever making a movie again.

Issue Date: October 31 - November 6, 2003
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