In the episodic Beyond Borders, a supermarket romance dressed up like a public-service announcement, it's possible to trace the heroine's awakening political conscience by watching her wardrobe. As the film opens, pampered art dealer Angelina Jolie is living well in 1984 London, but she becomes unsettled by the suffering in the world when renegade relief worker Clive Owen crashes a fancy-dress benefit with a starving Ethiopian boy in tow. Drawn to help/hump Owen, Jolie sets off for Africa attired in a flawless hat-to-shoes white ensemble, which somehow stays free of dirt even as she plunges into the depths of human misery. Flash forward five years to 1989 Cambodia. Now a U.N. worker, Jolie has altered her fashion sense to fit her worldview, and she wears a black tank top and a pair of matching, loose-fitting pants, a flattering-but-practical choice perfect for a night on the town or for hiding from the Khmer Rouge. But in the war-torn Chechnya of 1995, the most dangerous region of all, Jolie sports a formless black coat that makes no concessions to fashion, although the black fur hat does look sporty. Beyond Borders similarly substitutes appearances for substance, using some of the worst crises of the past two decades as the backdrop for a romance between an expressionless Jolie and a terminally grumpy Owen. That would be bad enough, but the film seems so blissfully ignorant of what it's doing that the result becomes almost comic. Written by first-time screenwriter Caspian Tredwell-Owen and directed by James Bond and Zorro vet Martin Campbell, Beyond Borders pays lip service to the problems at hand, but has no interest in them apart from their ability to make the heroes look noble. The people in need rarely get to speak, remaining so undifferentiated that they seem barely human. (When Jolie rescues an Ethiopian child, Campbell badly simulates the effects of starvation by swapping in a CGI head, which doesn't help.) By the time Beyond Borders gets to a scene involving a crying toddler holding a hand grenade, the film's exploitative elements have long since begun outweighing any claims to good intentions. Here's a way to feel better and avoid supporting dreck: Send a check to UNICEF and go see Lost In Translation, Mystic River, or Kill Bill instead.
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