My Son the Fanatic
Director: Udayan Prasad
Screenplay: Hanif Kureishi
Cast: Om Puri, Rachel Griffiths, Stellan Skarsgård
NY Distribution Status: now playing (Miramax)

Grade: C

Once upon a time, in what we now longingly call the Golden Age of Hollywood, virtually every picture released bore the distinctive stamp of the studio that had produced it; knowledgeable filmgoers could walk into the theater during the middle of reel three and identify the feature as hailing from Columbia or Warner or MGM in a matter of moments, even if the actors were unknown or on loan. Nowadays, of course, studio films are a homogenous barrage of digital effects and indifferent "set pieces"; the legacy of the corporate auteur lives on, however, in the hollow halls of Miramax -- once an adventurous conduit to the best that world cinema had to offer, now the arthouse equivalent of Masterpiece Theatre. My Son the Fanatic isn't quite as aggressively ingratiating as the Weinsteins' usual fare -- the final shot, in particular, is admirably understated, the quietest conclusion since Big Night -- but it's recognizably a Miramax Movie all the same: unthreateningly "exotic," emotionally oppressive, dramatically inert. Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid) seems to be a serious writer, passionate and sincere, but here he's created a story that's tailor-made for the Weinsteins' increasingly coarse sensibility; the main story is little more than a fundamentalist variation on the liberal parent/conservative child scenario that fueled "Family Ties," while the other half of the narrative -- My Girlfriend the Hooker, basically -- is a morass of heart-of-gold clichés, despite the herculean efforts of Puri and Griffiths to invest their humdrum scenes with a little vitality. (Puri, especially, deserved a lot better, considering that this is his first leading role in an English-language film; I'd direct you to his far superior performance in Sandip Ray's so-so Target, but I sincerely doubt that it's available at a video store near you.) The film offered me so little to think about, in fact, that I see that I've inadvertently pulled a Jonathan Rosenbaum, largely ignoring its merits and de- in favor of a tangential rant. Sorry 'bout that, folks...but consider it a warning.