A Palestinian man seeking revenge lands in Detroit and buddies up with a crystal-meth addict in multihyphenate Sooney Kadouh’s uneven debut, “This Narrow Place.” Though not without interesting ideas, Kadouh hasn’t fully thought through his arguments, and a few good scenes are sabotaged by ham-fisted situations; in addition, the overall bros-before-hos message needs major reassessment. A miniscule arthouse release is possible, though VOD is the more likely destination. Kadouh picked up one of the Arab producer prizes at Abu Dhabi.The opening sequence is composed of rapid edits between the Al-Shati Refugee Camp in Gaza, where bomb parts are being constructed, and Detroit, where a guy is shooting up in an abandoned warehouse. Poor Detroit, already considered a failed metropolis, hardly deserves to have the parallel driven home by shots of Gaza’s detritus-strewn beach matched with the Motor City’s slums. Hassan (Sammy Sheik), radicalized after his younger brother was killed by Israelis, is given a mission to acquire weapons components in the States. An odd meeting in a run-down restroom in Detroit (Kadouh makes it abundantly clear he’s not implying any sexual tension) brings Hassan together with Chris (Jonathan Stanley), a junkie who lets him stay the night. Although Hassan’s been warned by his controller not to get in touch with his aunt and uncle living nearby, the next day Chris drives his new friend (wow, that was quick) to their house. Pic scores a few hits, such as a funny scene in a Kmart, but then loses all sense of nuance with sequences awash in stereotypes, including Tina the crack queen (Val Howard) and a blind preacher in a laundromat. The “Arab terrorist in the U.S.” setup is cliched enough without these additions, and unfortunately when the script tries for subtlety, it turns opaque or confused. As an unlikely buddy film, “This Narrow Place” works only haphazardly: Unsurprisingly, Chris falls for Hassan’s head-scarved sister, Nadia (Rita Khori), as Hassan gets him to fast for Ramadan and helps him kick drugs. Each has his demons to deal with, which only the pure love of male bonding will accomplish. The script, though, needs to work harder at establishing why these two connect. As usual, duplicitous or virginal women just get in the way. Thesping, like the dialogue, careens from decent to stilted, though Sheik and Stanley demonstrate capabilities beyond the script’s limitations. Visuals are mixed, with an overreliance on jerky handheld lensing, and color correction needs a bit more work, especially on skies made white by digital lensing.
A Cinote Cinema Surfaces Prods. production. Produced by Sooney Kadouh. Directed, written, edited by Sooney Kadouh.
Camera (color, HD); music, Kevin Kelbach, Jef Powell; production designer, Joseph Worth; costume designer, Mary Kish; sound, John Daugherty; casting, Kathy McKee. Reviewed at Abu Dhabi Film Festival (New Horizons), Oct. 20, 2011. Running time: 97 MIN.
Sammy Sheik, Jonathan Stanley, Sayed Badreya, Lonette McKee, Anthony Azizi, Rita Khori, Val Howard, Oscar Brown, Suha Samawi, Mike Batayeh, Eddie Phillips, Daniel August Ryan. (English, Arabic dialogue)