An inventive weirdo premise and a strong assortment of regional thesps do their best to carry “Baghdad, Texas,” but David H. Hickey’s Lone Star comedy never really develops, stalling this culture-clash clambake at the merely likable stage. Plot imagines a plane carrying a fleeing Saddam Hussein crashing in Mexico in December 2003; its wounded, high-ranking passenger makes it across the Texas border, only to be broadsided by a trio of drunken cowboys. Opening Aug. 27 at Gotham’s Quad Cinema, this amiable, unpretentious pic should comfortably downshift to the smallscreen.
The cowboys in question run an exotic animal range to keep their small ranch afloat, reluctantly catering to rich hunters who can’t hit the broad side of a barn. At first, these good ‘ol boys figure their Sunni guest (Al No’Mani, also one of three credited screenwriters) for a Mexican. But once they guess his identity — he goes by the name of Brando — it sets off a firestorm of conflicting interests and agendas; a decision to involve the FBI only ups the number of people with a stake in the action. Outside the greed-vs.-patriotism conflict, a housekeeper (an excellent Melinda Renna) shifts the pic’s axis toward cross-cultural exploration of a more romantic nature, while a couple of Mexican field hands sit back and watch the gringos’ antics, immensely amused. Throughout it all, a lone camel roams the barren landscape, unexplained.
Helmer Hickey tends to underplay his comedy in a loose, lackadaisical manner, balancing his thesps’ styles pleasingly. Thus, the loudmouth redneck (Barry Tubb), given to grandiose statements as idiotic as they are racist, is set against the eager idealism of the ranch owner’s teenage son (Ryan Boggus). Robert Prentiss, looking like a worried, tobacco-chawing John Waters, brings a certain down-home integrity to his role as the owner of the spread, suddenly called upon to deal with a geopolitical crisis.
Hickey displays a soft spot for his none-too-bright Texans, who are ill equipped to deal with the modern world. In one scene, the three stand around a fax machine, watching in stupefied awe as they finally get it to function.
Up until its final twist, “Baghdad, Texas” poses a real dilemma for expatriate Iraqi actor No’Mani (“Three Kings”), whose character cannot develop in the manner of the real-life Hussein. Tortured flashbacks to the plane crash hint at unresolved issues that only in hindsight reconcile the dictator’s history with his gallantry toward housekeeper Carmen, who positively blooms under his attentions.
Tech credits are adequate for the pic’s scruffy look. Featuring one of the late No’Mani’s final screen appearances, “Baghdad” is also the latest recent indie film largely financed via its soundtrack, created by producer-composer Booka Michel, of the band Booka and the Flaming Geckos, for his Loudhouse Prods.