Thursday, May 09, 2013

Java Heat: Open Up a Can of Cultural Exchange

Cultural Exchange is a beautiful thing.  A Muslim police officer will teach a mysterious American to wear a Batik to formal Indonesian affairs.  He will return the favor by indoctrinating his reluctant by-the-book ally in the finer points of American buddy-action movies.  Get ready to learn what’s good for you in Conor Allyn’s Java Heat (trailer here), which screens ‘round about midnight this weekend at the IFC Center.

The Sultana was poised to succeed her father the Sultan as one of Java’s most influential and respected leaders.  Unfortunately, she is killed by a suicide bomber.  As viewers learn during Lt. Hashim’s interrogation, American Jake Travers was suspiciously close to the action—and he was not wearing his Batik.  Hashim scolds the suspect he ought to know better as a visiting Southeast Asian Studies scholar.  Art history Travers counters.  Do not be surprised if this exchange is repeated maybe once or twice.

Of course, Travers is not really an academic and the terrorists are absolutely, positively not Muslims.  Instead, the bad guy is Mickey Rourke, sporting the most bizarre, ethnically ambiguous accent you will ever want to hear.  Give him credit though, he maintains its impenetrable consistency.

Java is not what you would call subtle cinema.  Father and son co-writer-co-producers Rob and Conor Allyn could have easily titled it “Muslims are not Terrorists: featuring Kellan Lutz’s abs.”  Before long the term “doth protest too much” should echo through most viewers’ heads.

Still, there is stuff that works here.  Ario Bayu totally delivers the intense cop-on-the-edge goods as Hashim.  Likewise, Atiqah Hasiholan’s Sultana lends the film some classy charisma.  Always a dependable spectacle, Rourke is truly a three-ring circus of villainy as the unclassifiable Malik.  Even Lutz soldiers through relatively competently, exceeding expectations for a Twilight franchise alumnus.

Cinematographer Shane Daly gives it all a suitably mysterious sheen, particularly the climax at the great Borobudur temple.  In general, the action sequences are credibly produced, if somewhat conventional.  Frankly, Java Heat would be an impressively scrappy genre programmer if only it were not so determined to interrupt the flow with teaching moments.  Recommended mostly for Rourke’s loyal fans (and God bless them), Java Heat begins a week of screenings tomorrow (5/10) at the IFC Center and is also available via IFC Midnight’s VOD platforms.