Terminally Self-Conscious Mooz-lum Plays Like an After-Madrasa Special


Solemn, unsubtle, and terminally self-conscious, Mooz-lum is maxed out on a number of fronts, beginning with the emotional investment of its director, Qasim Basir. The “actual events” that Mooz-lum is based on presumably involve Basir’s experience growing up in a Muslim family, and, as sometimes happens when translating personal stories, the stresses fall in all the wrong places. The will of a quaking family patriarch (Roger Guenveur Smith) to send his son Tariq (Jonathan Smith) to an Islamic boarding school leads to a split with his moderate wife (Nia Long). Mooz-lum alternates between the bumpy assimilation of adult Tariq (Evan Ross) into college—where he reinvents himself as “T” and renounces his faith—and his embattled younger years. Both storylines play like an after-madrasa special, from the animatronic performances and overbearing sound and dialogue cues (a cleric’s slaps get kung-fu effects; Tariq’s fellow co-eds speak in The More You Know koans) to the evasive streamlining of complicated themes. A subplot involving a Muslim professor and an intolerant dean (Danny Glover) is similarly ill-articulated; Glover is the ignorant infidel, around mainly to mispronounce “Muslim.” When the 9/11 card is abruptly pulled from Basir’s kufi, all hope that it might be played to the film’s advantage evaporates.