Tepid ‘Fundamentalist’ mishandles hot-button material

The 2010 film “Four Lions” is about a cell of Islamic fundamentalists plotting to plant homemade explosive devices at — among other targets — the London marathon. It’s an uproarious comedy.

Too soon after the Boston bombings to recall this scathing movie? Maybe, but it shouldn’t be. The film’s prediction of stupid self-styled jihadists looks even keener and more furious than it did three years ago.

Along with its value as a genuinely uncompromising satire, “Four Lions” serves as an excellent introduction to the Oxford-educated actor and hip-hop artist Riz Ahmed, a wunderkind artist who plays the leader of the hapless terrorists. That movie’s a better vehicle for Ahmed than “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” a tepid new effort from director Mira Nair, which passes glumly over distantly related turf.

Ahmed, a quick, compact performer, is the main draw here. He plays Changez, a charismatic professor in Lahore, Pakistan, who recounts his story to a U.S. journalist (Liev Schreiber); while the two sweat out a crisis involving a kidnapped Western academic in Lahore, Changez’s past life unfolds in big blocks of flashback.

Having come to America at 18, Changez goes through mostly expected ups and downs: upper-class girlfriend (Kate Hudson, dark-wigged for the serious material), brilliant success at Manhattan financial firm specializing in cannibalizing small companies, mentorship from tough-but-supportive boss (Kiefer Sutherland).

And Sept. 11. You probably figured that was coming. Changez absorbs anti-Muslim anger and lets his beard grow out, eventually returning to Pakistan. If this tale has a shot at succeeding, it probably needs a better frame than the present-day kidnapping story, which feels like a tricked-up stab at suspense.

Nair is a talented image-maker, and the grainy widescreen cinematography (Declan Quinn at the camera) is convincing. But except for the occasional zinger from Kiefer Sutherland’s Wall Street shark, the clunky dialogue sets forth one issue after another, betraying a serious tin ear for the way people actually speak.

There was a time when Nair could be socially conscious in her films while creating a real flow (“Salaam Bombay” and “Mississippi Masala”), but that hasn’t been true in a while.

“The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is adapted from Mohsin Hamid’s novel, and in almost every way it feels like a wrongheaded attempt to juice up a book. In this case, Riz Ahmed is the real juice, and the movie around him operates on a noticeably dimmer wattage.

“The Reluctant Fundamentalist” (2 stars)

A tepid offering from director Mira Nair, about a Pakistani emigrant (Riz Ahmed) who finds success in America as a hotshot at a financial firm — until Sept. 11 happens. The movie’s clumsy in its issue-oriented dialogue, and the main reason to see it is to watch the British hip-hop performer Riz Ahmed, a quick, compact actor who carries every scene. Kate Hudson and Liev Schreiber co-star.

Rating: R, for language, subject matter

Showing: Guild 45th.

More in Life

New documentary chronicles Obama’s last year in White House

“The Final Year” doesn’t paint the administration in rosy colors, but it isn’t too critical either.

‘Forever My Girl’ takes a page from the Nicholas Sparks genre

The film based on a novel by Heidi McLaughlin is a well-worn tale of lost love and redemption.

Curries continues home-cooked Indian cuisine at new location

The restaurant, now located on Evergreen Way, also puts an Indian spin on Northwest cooking.

International guitar tour led by Lulo Reinhardt stops in Edmonds

International Guitar Night, now in its 18th year, is Jan. 24 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts.

Beer of the Week: Scuttlebutt’s Night Circus

The Everett brewery’s head brewer had nightmares trying to dial in its new coffee and coconut ale.

Viognier: French white grape gaining foothold in Washington

Viognier, the noble white grape of the northern Rhône Valley of France,… Continue reading

The latest on Snohomish County’s breweries, wineries and distilleries.

recreated one of those old recipes, brewing Tennant’s 1954 Gold Label Barleywine

New Cascadia Art Museum exhibit showcases mid-century designs

The exhibition includes ceramics, furniture, clothing, sculpture and jewelry from 1948 to 1966.

This beefy ex-cop has a delicate hobby: intricate paper-cut art

You can see Tom Sacco’s creations at the upcoming Everett Art Walk.

Most Read