Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Amira & Sam’s cultural divide doesn’t liven up a clichéd genre piece

Illustration for article titled Amira & Sam’s cultural divide doesn’t liven up a clichéd genre piece

Romantic comedy clichés are given a superficial East-meets-West (and vet-back-home) makeover in Amira & Sam, a love story whose likable stars can’t compensate for a story that tediously adheres to formula. Piling one contrivance upon another, writer-director Sean Mullin’s film concerns the unlikely romance between recently discharged soldier Sam (Martin Starr) and hijab-wearing Amira (Dina Shihabi), the niece of Sam’s trusted former Iraqi translator Bassam (Laith Nakli). Sam is the type of noble, upstanding guy who refuses to receive disability checks from the military (because he doesn’t need them), and who agrees without hesitation to help Bassam hide Amira from the police when she’s caught selling illegal DVDs on a NYC street corner and—knowing that she’s already facing possible deportation for prior infractions—flees the officer. As embodied by Starr, in a part that’s far more stoic and upstanding than his slacker-weirdo role on HBO’s Silicon Valley, Sam is basically a one-note flawless good guy, and his lack of complexity or charisma is an initial—albeit far from the only—drag on the subsequent proceedings.

Sam and Amira’s budding relationship follows a familiar step-by-step path, from bumpy introduction, to begrudging happiness together, to kissing and canoodling. That same lack of originality is also found in Sam’s increasing involvement in the hedge fund business of cousin Charlie (Paul Wesley). Charlie enlists Sam’s aid in winning over prospective former military clients, and thanks to Mullin’s paint-by-numbers script, it’s apparent from the moment they first meet that Charlie only cares about Sam so long as he’s useful to him, and that he’s an untrustworthy me-first crook whose shadiness is destined to eventually come to light. That it does, and with maximum predictably, to the point that Amira & Sam squanders almost all of the genial rapport shared by Starr and Shihabi by stranding them in one phony scenario and conflict after another.

Despite Starr’s comedy background, a subplot regarding Sam’s desire to be a stand-up comedian proves thinly sketched and inert, just as Bassam’s reaction to third-act trouble feels dictated less by rational thought so much as the dictates of romantic-comedy procedures. Were it funnier, sweeter, or even just slightly more off-the-wall, Amira & Sam might have transcended its fundamentally hackneyed nature. As it is, though, the film plays like a ho-hum regurgitation of the same old thing, right through to a finale that tacks on a nonsensical happy ending at the expense of basic logic.