By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday at Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco, the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley and the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.
Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad garnered Best Foreign Film Oscar nominations for his terrorist dramas Paradise Now and Omar, both mediocre efforts elevated by their presumed hot-button timeliness. Abu-Assad’s latest film The Idol is something different – an intentionally old-fashioned, feel-good musical biopic – but it still offers a lot more of the same perfunctory visuals and sludgy storytelling. The Idol tells a highly fictionalized version of the life of Mohammed Assaf, a Palestinian singer who galvanized the Arab world when he won Arab Idol in 2013. There’s plenty of meat in Assaf’s actual life, but Abu-Assad piles on the Andy Hardy contrivances instead, splitting the story between Assaf’s childhood (depicted here as a Newsies-style world of street bands, adorable urchins, tragedy-tinged hijinks and soldier-on message-mongering) and his long path to Arab Idol as a struggling young taxi driver on the Gaza Strip. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the concept of The Idol, not even the attempt to rewrite an extremely recent real-life event witnessed by the entire world into melodramatic storybook nonsense, but there’s nothing particularly notable about Abu-Assad’s execution either.