Sitting in a hotel room that commands a great view of Key Bridge, the Potomac and the Georgetown waterfront, filmmaker David O. Russell ponders definition. How to describe "Three Kings," his new movie?

There's no question the film is more than an action-adventure seriocomedy about the Gulf War.

The story begins with the cease-fire. Four American soldiers in the desert -- GeorgeClooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze -- are left vaguely frustrated by the technological bombing blitz, which left the infantry somewhat high, dry and unused.

When they learn about stashes of gold bullion in the vicinity, which Saddam's troops have supposedly stolen from the Kuwaitis, the lure of war booty beckons them. But their get-rich scheme to steal the gold turns into something completely surprising: a journey into the heart of another culture.

"It goes from a "M*A*S*H"-like environment to a more emotionally affecting environment," says the writer-director. "If I had to describe it, I'd say it's a sometimes satiric, raucous adventure that has some surprisingly strong emotions in it."

For Russell, best known for his satirical comedies, "Spanking the Monkey" and "Flirting With Disaster," this was a whole new campaign. What surprised him most about the war, he says, was its aftermath, in which the Iraqis rose in revolt, thinking they had American support. They were wrong. Russell's movie uses this as a social backdrop to the soldier's journey of discovery.

And Russell is never far away from his signature, comedic flourishes. Russell recalls two of many favorite moments when he improvised humorously. The first was getting Jonze -- playing a goofy southerner -- to imitate the ululating Iraqi women, only to be told such an activity is only done by women.

The second was when Russell instructed a supporting actor, playing yet another GI goofball, to make an inappropriate play to kiss Adriana Cruz (Nora Dunn), who happens to be the meanest on-air war journalist in the valley. In the movie, when the soldier reaches for a smacker, Adriana -- without missing a beat or even saying anything about it -- simply shoves him away as if he were a pesky dachshund. It's a hilarious moment.

What's his next movie? Russell says he has no particular plans. Although he had a tremendously positive experience making "Three Kings," there's one thing he knows about his next project.

"It won't be about the military."