THERE IS A MOMENT in Three Kings when you actually see what a bullet does to the human body. You see it smash through organs causing all sorts of damage and leaks, not to mention spills of blood, pus, and bile. It is a coldly clinical yet fascinating moment, giving you a glimpse of what you've only imagined. Then a cow explodes and you laugh.

This is director David O. Russell's version of war: carnage and comedy.

Of all the wars in the past century, the Gulf War is the ripest for comedy. From the American standpoint, from our sofas and La-Z-Boys, the battle for Kuwait seemed more like a scrimmage -- a Harlem Globetrotters game, with Iraq stuck being the Washington Generals. Three Kings taps into that viewpoint, then turns it on its ear.

The story goes like this: At the end of the war, four U.S. soldiers (George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze) find a secret map leading to a bunker where gold, stolen from Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, is being stashed. Feeling opportunistic, they decide to steal it, only to find themselves having to make a tough decision -- steal the gold or help a pack of Iraqi rebels who (at the urging of President Bush) have risen up against Hussein, but then were abandoned by the U.S. government and left to be slaughtered.

They decide to do both. It is at this point that David O. Russell plunges us from our distanced outlook of the Gulf War directly into the war itself.

Comedy and heavy drama, when mixed, often lead to disaster. Three Kings tries to be both a comedy and a drama, as well as an action movie -- a volatile recipe, to say the least. But surprisingly, it pulls it off, despite an occasional misstep. By the end, you feel like you've really seen the Gulf War, really understood what exactly went down over there in the desert. You laugh while you're in the theater, then curse the U.S. as you leave. Then you go home and forget about it.