The Taqwacores -- Film Review

Original concept but crude in its execution.

Shaky narrative style, broad characterizations undo film's effectiveness, though the concert sequence with West Coast Islamic punk bands will fascinate music connoisseurs.

Credit for originality must be given to Eyad Zahra's debut feature, The Taqwacores. After all, there aren't any other movies out there dealing with the Islamic punk-rock scene.

Don't feel badly if you're unfamiliar with the phenomenon. The film is based on a 2003 novel by Michael Muhammad Knight that became a cult success and apparently fostered a real-life equivalent to the exotic milieu it depicts.

Set in depressed Buffalo, N.Y., its central character is Yusef (Bobby Naderi), a Pakistani college sophomore who decides to move into an off-campus house populated by his fellow Muslims rather than continue living at his temptation-filled dorm.

His new housemates are a truly unique bunch -- Islamic punk rockers who have fully embraced the music's anarchic culture even while embracing their religious doctrine to varying degrees. Among the disparate characters are volatile skateboarder Ayyub (Volkan Eryaman), fundamentalist-oriented Umar (Nav Mann) and rebellious Jhangir (Dominic Rains). The only female resident is Rabeya (Noureen De Wulf), whose unorthodox ideas about her religion are somewhat belied by her practice of wearing a burka at all times.

Needless to say, Yusef finds his head spinning with varied responses to coping with his outlandish new environment, not to mention having his faith tested by, among other things, the sexual overtures of a comely blond neighbor with a fascination for Muslims.

Extremely crude in its technical elements, the low-budget film does reveal stylistic ambitions through devices like frequently reverting from color to black-and-white film stock. But the shaky narrative style and broad characterizations undo its effectiveness, though the climactic concert sequence featuring an array of actual West Coast Islamic punk bands will possess an undeniable fascination for wide-ranging music connoisseurs.

Opened: Friday, Oct. 22 (Strand Releasing)
Production: Rumanni Filmworks
Cast: Bobby Naderi, Noureen Dewulf, Dominic Rains
Director-producer: Eyad Zahra
Screenwriters: Michael Muhammad Knight, Eyad Zahra
Executive producer: David Perse
Director of photography: J.P. Perry
Editor: Joshua Rosenfield
Production design: Nathan Kemmerer
Music: Omar Fadel
Not rated, 83 minutes