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Taboo trinity of religion, politics, sex in full view

He's Jewish. She's Muslim. Despite chasms and intimacy hurdles, `David & Layla' are determined to make a romance work.

July 20, 2007|Michael Ordona | Special to The Times

A comedic romance inspired by a real-life love story between a Jewish American man and a Kurdish Muslim woman, with dashes of erectile dysfunction, testicular torsion and international politics, "David & Layla" follows public-access TV personality David Fine (David Moscow) as he falls for refugee and dancer Layla (Shiva Rose) despite the religious and cultural chasms between their families and his tepid engagement to another woman.

Even considering the subject matter, the film is surprisingly political for a romantic comedy. On David's show, "Sex and Happiness," a psychiatrist compares the last two presidents' military actions and links them to the chief executives' presumed sexual health: If we want peace, he postulates, "Maybe we should obligate our leaders to eat spicy foods and have more sex."

"David & Layla" manages to be both randy and chaste, its sex is absurd but not explicit. The dialogue has its moments, such as when David's fiancee says her brother has been diagnosed with an Oedipal complex, and David's oh-so-Jewish mother retorts, "Oedipus Schmedipus, as long as he loves his mother!"

Writer-producer-director Jay Jonroy struggles to balance the love story with the cultural and political elements. It doesn't help that he favors broad acting and unsynchronized comic timing (some slapstick bits are missed by a mile). Still, Moscow eventually finds his groove as David, and Callie Thorne is amusing as his high-strung fiancee, Abby.

Packed with meals, music and religious ideas, the movie offers interesting looks into Jewish and Kurdish Muslim traditions. The climactic celebration sequence is a high point. "David & Layla" also displays an unusual grasp of complex political issues and these mini-dissertations prove to be integral parts of the film's fabric.

But Jonroy struggles to keep the romantic-comedy momentum going, falling prey to the genre's deadliest trap: Why are these people in love in the first place? Layla in particular is a somewhat opaque character. It's hard to understand why the two risk everything when they barely know each other. Their ardor, lacking a sexual spark, never seems as formidable as the obstacles.

Though it's no "Romeo and Juliet," "David & Layla" is an offbeat cross-cultural romance with a positive message.

"David & Layla." MPAA rating: R for sexual content, some language and brief drug material. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869; Laemmle's One Colorado, 42 Miller Alley (inside plaza, Fair Oaks Avenue at Union Street), Pasadena, (626) 744-1224; and Regal/Edwards Westpark, 3755 Alton Parkway, Irvine, (949) 622-8609.

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