After middlebrow romance "Cairo Time," Canadian helmer-writer Ruba Nadda returns to a Middle Eastern setting to try her hand at political thriller "Inescapable"; the results do not impress.

After middlebrow romance “Cairo Time,” Canadian helmer-writer Ruba Nadda returns to a Middle Eastern setting to try her hand at political thriller “Inescapable”; the results do not impress. This heavy-handed, shrilly melodramatic tale about a former Syrian military intelligence officer who returns to his homeland when his daughter goes missing reps a misfire on every level. Poor word of mouth is unavoidable, and will likely dampen the curiosity of even those with a current affairs interest in Syria, although casting of Alexander Siddiq and Marisa Tomei might spark some interest in ancillary. Canadian rollout, via Alliance begins Sept. 14.

Elegant, authoritative Adib Abdul-Kareem (Siddiq) fled Syria some 30 years ago. Now he is a computer operations manager at a Toronto bank, married to a Canadian, and proud father of two pretty girls, but his family has no clue about his complicated past. When elder daughter Muna (Jay Anstey) goes off the radar while secretly investigating her paternal roots, Adib makes a beeline to Damascus despite the death sentence still hanging over his head.

With the help of former fiancee Fatima (Tomei, loaded with so much eyeliner she looks like a panda), Adib recklessly bribes his way into the country. His Arabic may be rusty, but his special skills (hand-to-hand combat!) and daring are not. With the dubious assistance of a Canadian consulate official (Joshua Jackson) and Sayid (Oded Fehr), the former colleague who long ago betrayed him, he strong-arms his way through the abstruse narrative thicket (Israeli espionage? Pedophile photos?) surrounding his daughter’s disappearance.

The plot has so many holes that it is practically Swiss cheese. Indeed, thinking about the gaps in logic (for instance, where does Adib get his endless supply of perfectly clean, form-fitting white shirts when he arrived without luggage and is forever sullying them with sweat and blood?) is far more entertaining than the film itself.

Nadda, who has Syrian roots, proved herself a director of cross-cultural sensitivity in small, intimate features such as “Coldwater.” Unfortunately, she lacks the chops to direct action thrillers.

On the thesping side, Siddiq is not a convincing one-man mean machine, nor Tomei a persuasive Arab (or for that matter, even a well-conceived character). And the former sweethearts are surrounded by figures that are practically comicbook cutouts. Dialogue and delivery are stilted, and sometimes risible. When Sayid shoots the thugs from the Interior Ministry who are hounding Adib and remarks, “Their blood is on your hands,” lo, it is literally so.

With South Africa standing in for Syria (the planned shoot in Egypt was nixed for security concerns), even the production design (one of “Cairo Time’s” strong suits) fails to convince. Tech credits are subpar, with the sound mix delivering most dialogue at a shout, and the generic thriller score pounding overtime but failing to inject excitement or suspense.

Inescapable

Canada-South Africa

Production

An Alliance Films (in Canada) release of a Foundry Films, Out of Africa Entertainment production. (International sales: Myriad Pictures, Santa Monica, Calif.) Produced by Daniel Iron, Lance Samuels. Executive producers, Kirk D'Amico, Mark Slone, Christine Vachon. Directed, written by Ruba Nadda.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Luc Montpellier; editor, Teresa Hannigan; music, Geo Hoehn; production designer, Bobby Cardoso; art director, Sheona Mitchley; sound (Dolby Digital), Nico Louw; associate producers, Elliott Borkum, Fadia Nadda. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Gala Presentations), Sept. 8, 2012. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Alexander Siddig, Marisa Tomei, Joshua Jackson, Oded Fehr, Saad Siddiqui, Jay Anstey. (English, Arabic dialogue)

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