07 June 2013

5 Minarets in New York

My friend Colleen is reviewing this movie for a journal, so we watched it together the other day. Having just read the draft of her (excellent) review, I started thinking about the movie again and figured I'd log my own responses (bonus: this being a blog rather than a respectable publication, I don't have to be nice). What makes the movie interesting is its attempt to be a Turkish-American blockbuster. The plot centers around a terrorism investigation that brings two Turkish cops to NYC, where they are to capture a local imam named Haci and bring him to Turkey to stand trial. One of the cops has tortured the crap out of some terr'rists and identified Haci as The Bad Guy. After a quick chat about American imperialism with a comically bigoted FBI agent (Robert Patrick, what happened to you??) they arrest their man, who is then rescued in a daring mission led by Danny Glover, his Muslim buddy, and Glover's army of Harlem thugs. In a wildly improbable sequence of events, the Turks end up hanging out with Haci (and his Christian wife, played by Gina Gershon, who as Colleen points out, is dressed like a Turkish mom for the entire movie, distressingly though impressively obliterating her considerable sex appeal) for a few days, where they are forced to confront the fact that he is clearly a saint. This puzzles them somewhat, but in the end, off to Turkey they go (where innocent men don't stand a chance!). I won't spoil the rest for you, because the surprise twists are half the ludicrous fun of it. But as Colleen aptly summarizes it, from that point on, the movie basically turns into a Turkish soap opera.

Let me be totally clear: this movie is terrible. The dialogue is appallingly bad (I suspect the English language bits were written in Turkish and fed into Google Translate), and the movie is basically a massive collection of worn out stereotypes. You might think that a cooperative effort between Turkish and US film folk would help avoid stereotype, but bizarrely, it seems to do the opposite - instead, all character types are pulled straight out of the stockpile of cliche, whether they be Turkish, Muslim, American, cops, WASPS, distressed daughters... there is nothing new under the cinematic sun, in this movie. I was, however, somewhat intrigued by the question of audience, namely - who is this movie made for? I think it must be Turks, because Americans a. don't like reading subtitles, ie will be turned off by all the Turkish dialogue, and b. won't get a lot of the cultural specificity of the Turkish segments. Not that they necessarily need to, but the underlying critique of juxtaposed scenes of fundamentalist groups chanting in a mosque and quasi-fascist training of the Turkish police force is going to be somewhat lost on them, and it might be one of the more interesting aspects of the film. I wonder, then, whether the problem is that this movie shouldn't be judged alongside American film at all, but rather, as a stock Turkish melodrama that has upped its ante by including American actors, similar to the way you occasionally see US film stars in Bollywood films (Kambakkht Ishq being particularly awesome in that regard. Seriously.). Not being a connoisseur of Turkish melodrama, I'm not really qualified to speak on that, but I think it's an interesting possibility.

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