A terror threat to New York has been identified, but all the police want to do is frame a local mosque run by an ex-con.
A rich family has arranged a change at the top. But murdering the patriarch doesn’t leave the field clear. A prodigal son lives on the streets, a crackhead who plays the ukulele for a fix, and gives his love and devotion only to Smooch — the pitbull he’s taken on as his best friend.
Those are the not-terribly-original but promising prospects set up by writer-director John Marco Lopez for the latest film to wear the title “Paradise City.” But don’t be fooled by the self-consciously artistic touches, the somewhat drab black and white cinematography, the dueling flashback and flash forward stuffed into the prologue, the judicious over-use of dramatic slow-motion.
This thing’s something of a muddle.
But it’s a fine vehicle for character player Hassan Bradley. He’s Brother Nasim, the ex-con who leads a tiny, start-up mosque in Manhattan, preaching love and street wisdom to any who will hear.
“You are the cause of what you cause…Alcohol is POISON, my brother!”
He has to ask new recruits to his congregation one thing that has little to do with the Koran.
“Are you a cop?”
One brother that he seemingly doesn’t suspect is the suspiciously observant Farouk (Kareem Savinon). As Johnny Colon, he’s working undercover for the Islamophobic “special crimes” unit run by Murdoch (Sticky Fingaz), the pride of the commssioner (Gordon Joseph Weiss).
Farouk/Colon is the one who spies the manic junky stealing from the mosque after Nasim has kindly invited him in to come in, clean up, eat and feed his dog. Little does he know that the homeless guy is young Alastair Holmgren (Chris Petrovski, not bad), heir to a freshly-deceased real estate mogul and sought by that mogul’s famous, ruthless, published and T
TV-friendly sister, Bianca (Laura Kamin).
The plotting is a strong suit of “Paradise City,” along with some very nice work by Bradley. The problems come from much of what spins out of that plot.
Scene after scene is static, slow to ignite — Alastair’s drug-desperate convenience store robbery — or failing to come to a point at all.
There’s little urgency to the film or any of the characters, even with law enforcement certain something is about to happen any minute, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral is among the possible “wiped off the map” targets.
Even Murdoch’s mania for that one mosque seems artificial, not something we’d believe in a near-lockdown emergency. Many is the character who acts illogically, in defiance of common sense or her or his self-interest.
And writer-director Lopez (“The Hudson Tribes”) keeps pausing to let us see a pastoral flashback — a beautiful family picnic that ended in tragedy — always in slo-mo.
There’s enough here that you can see the movie that might have been. But “Paradise City” gets in its own way so often that it falls well short of paradise, or coherence for that matter.
MPA Rating: unrated, violence, profanity
Cast: Chris Petrovski, Sticky Fingaz, Laura Kamin, Hassan Bradley, Kareem Savinon and Gordon Joseph Weiss
Credits: Written and directed by John Marco Lopez. An LPZ Media release.
Running time: 1:37