Rafy, Overture Films
Don Cheadle, left, and Guy Pearce star in "Traitor," a terrorism thriller that fails to engage the viewer despite its promising material.

TRAITOR — ** — Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Jeff Daniels; with English subtitles (Middle Eastern and European dialects); rated PG-13 (violence, profanity, torture, brief gore, slurs, vulgarity)

Don Cheadle is one of the best actors currently working in Hollywood. He makes almost everything he's in watchable. And so does Guy Pearce. As does Jeff Daniels, for that matter.

So somebody please explain why "Traitor," which features all three, is such a chore to watch.

Despite featuring this cast and having some relevant, promising material, this terrorist thriller never engages us. It slow boils its way to a ludicrous, contrived wrapup that's almost laughably silly.

Cheadle served as one of the film's producers and stars as the title character, a former Special Forces soldier named Samir Horn.

Samir has left the United States and is now supplying explosives and components to Islamic terror bombers in Yemen. He has also apparently cast his lot with a fanatical Muslim, Omar (Said Taghmaoui, from "Vantage Point").

Those subversive activities have made Samir a "person of interest." And FBI agent Roy Clayton (Pearce) is hot on his trail. But Clayton also discovers some information that makes him question Samir's true loyalties.

It's hard to believe that Steve Martin, who co-crafted the story and executive produced, was even involved in this dour, mostly humorless affair.

Co-screenwriter/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff (2001's "Hollywood Palms") can't generate much suspense, and he can't really pull this material together in a coherent, compelling fashion. A subplot about Samir's photographer girlfriend (Archie Panjabi) is pointless.

Also, it's odd that Nachmanoff let Aussie actor Pearce get away with a fake Texas drawl. It sounds like he's almost trying to lampoon our current commander-in-chief.

Worse, Daniels and Neal McDonough are wasted in go-nowhere supporting roles. And even the usually intense Cheadle seems a little uninterested in the action. Not that you can blame him.

"Traitor" is rated PG-13 for strong scenes of violent action (shootings, knife violence, fisticuffs, beatings, and vehicular and explosive mayhem), occasional strong profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), scenes depicting torture and interrogation, brief gore and blood, some derogatory language and slurs, and some brief vulgar slang. Running time: 114 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com