By Phil Hall | May 12, 2007

Rola Nashef’s short drama is unique by its presentation of an Arab-American community without any mention of politics and religion. In fact, one could easily switch the ethnicity of the characters to another hyphenated-American demographic and you’d pretty much have the same story.

“Detroit Unleaded” is a wispy slice of life in which the young Sami agrees to take the midnight shift at his cousin’s gas station in order to hook up with his girlfriend Naj away from the prying eyes of their respective families. As the gas station is located within Detroit, the film provides an opportunity for comic ghetto stereotypes to parade in for mirthful appearances. In fairness, some white freaks also stop by (including a group of Arabs trying, and failing, to look gangsta).

To its credit, the film avoids the obvious relating to crime: talk of the number of shots required to shatter bullet-proof glass and the repeated reference to a gun under the counter never adds up to a barrage of fusillade. However, the film’s core (the appearance of Naj in the middle of the night) reveals surprisingly sloppy scripting (allegedly, Sami forgets to tell her which gas station he’s at). Also, the film goes overboard in close-ups of Sami looking pensive and confused (actor Lamar Babi, a John Kennedy Jr. lookalike, is photogenic – but, really, the attention is excessive).

Nonethless, “Detroit Unleaded” is a handsomely produced and beautifully photographed effort (kudos to cinematographer Dan S. Noga). And it deserves praise for showing Arab-Americans behaving like…well, behaving like Americans. Now maybe Hollywood can pay attention to that challenge and do the same?

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