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

Co-owner Jason Parzyk carries two growlers to fill as he serves up beer at Lake Stevens Brewing Co. The first brewery in the city is celebrating one-year anniversary this weekend. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Beer of the Week: Lake Stevens Brewing Co.’s Sour Imperial

The beer has a depth and a complex flavor profile that goes beyond just another barrel-aged stout.

Legendary bluesman Curtis Salgado to play Arlington show

The Northwest blues-soul-funk-R&B living legend performs with Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons Nov. 18.

This year’s Snohomish Blues Invasion has an all-star lineup

Proceeds send the CD Woodbury Trio and the Benton-Townsend Duo to the International Blues Challenge.

Schack holiday show features Northwest watercolor artists

The free exhibit also will have three-dimensional works, such as jewelry, glass, ceramic and wood.

‘Three Billboards’ rooted in Frances McDormand’s rigid role

The actress of “Fargo” fame gives an Oscar-worthy performance in this black comedy on human nature.

‘The Hate U Give’ shows the burden of being black in America

Angie Thomas’ story of a teen girl covers the challenging experience of African Americans.

A merry Christmas concert with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith

The Christian music stars will perform at Xfinity Arena with Jordan Smith of “The Voice” on Nov. 18.

‘Veep’ production postponed during Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ treatment

The 56-year-old star has been documenting her breast cancer fight on social media.

The Rucker Hill house is featured in the Twin Peaks series in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Living happily ever after in the ‘Twin Peaks’ house

Everett homeowners snagged a role in the recent reboot of the 1990s cult classic show.

Most Read