Detroit Unleaded (NR)

Comedy 93 November 22, 2013
By Nick Schager
A more romantic variation on Clerks, Detroit Unleaded charts the budding relationship between Lebanese-American gas station owner Sami (EJ Assi) -- compelled to take over the family's Detroit-slums business with ambitious cousin Mike (Mike Batayeh) after his father is killed in a robbery -- and his beautiful cousin Naj (Nada Shouhayib). Their meet-cute takes place in "the cage," the area located behind the counter and bulletproof-glass partition, and that space provides a fitting metaphor for Sami's feelings of being trapped in a life he didn't choose. Director Rola Nashef's visuals can be clunky, and her script's conversational dialogue is occasionally stilted. Nonetheless, she draws her characters in sharp lines, so that the gaggle of customers who frequent Sami's workplace -- or Naj's girlfriends, who in one scene exhibit clearly defined and distinctive personalities -- feel not like types but, rather, like diverse individuals. That's also true of Sami and Naj, whose goofing-around rapport has a sweetness that makes up for the somewhat sketchy particulars of their coupling, and helps sell their amour as more than merely a narrative device. Moreover, the tensions that soon arise from the domineering sexism of Naj's brother provides a cultural-critique undercurrent that bolsters the film's endearing portrait of young lovers in search of joint escape.
Rola Nashef EJ Assi, Nada Shouhayib, Mike Batayeh, Akram El-Ahmar, Mary Assel, Steven Soro, Henri Watkins, Scott Norman, Laith Salim Rola Nashef

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