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‘Surviving Paradise’: Iranian Kids on the Loose

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kamshad Kooshan’s “Surviving Paradise,” a well-intended but awkward first film, turns loose two Iranian youngsters in Los Angeles who have to fend for themselves.

The idea of seeing the city through the eyes of foreign children, free of the stereotypes and prejudices that fragment our multicultural society, is inspired and the film’s key strength. But Kooshan sets up his story so hazily and is so given to sending messages in such heavy-handed fashion that he bungles his promising premise and undercuts the impact made by Keyan Arman Abedini as 10-year-old Sam and Lauren Parissa Abedini as 8-year-old Sara.

The film opens in a clearly prosperous home in Tehran, where an elegant woman (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is arguing with her unseen husband as she prepares a meal. The argument culminates with her declaration that she is leaving the country with their children, Sam and Sara--and that he wouldn’t dare stop her.

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(We eventually learn that the children are American citizens, and when they mention Boston, we’re encouraged to assume that they’ve been raised there, which would account for them speaking English with an American accent; if this is the case, it’s unclear when and why the family has returned to Iran.)

In any event, no sooner have mother and children stepped off the plane in Los Angeles than the mother is kidnapped by a couple of thickheaded thugs who mistake her for another Iranian woman, the wife of an L.A.-based Iranian emigre antiques dealer. Also involved in the kidnapping is a down-on-his-luck writer (Joe Alvarez); you instantly know that he’s going to become conscience-ridden and turn good guy in crisis.

The upshot is that all Sam and Sara have to go on is that their uncle had a business on Broadway, presumably in downtown L.A., and he apparently has moved. The children do find his vacated premises but have no idea how to track him from there. They run afoul of a Latino gang, but a Latino good Samaritan comes to their rescue. They wind up in South-Central, where they are mistaken for Latinos. Later, they’re given shelter by a kindly African American bus driver and his wife and helped out by the owner of a Westside Persian restaurant. Meanwhile, their mother struggles to escape her unsavory captors.

The Abedinis are most appealing and credible; unfortunately, the same cannot be said for “Surviving Paradise” itself.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: some violence.

‘Surviving Paradise’

Shohreh Aghdashloo: Mother

Keyan Arman Abedini: Sam

Lauren Parissa Abedini: Sara

Joe Alvarez: Kidnapper

A New Light Entertainment production. Writer-director Kamshad Kooshan. Producers Bahman Maghsoudlou and Kooshan. Executive producers Fred Afshar, Torange Yeghiazarian and Kammbiz Kuschan. Cinematographer Paul Mayne. Editorial consultant Rick LeCompte. Music Richard Herrara Lopez. Production designer Jay Vetter. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Exclusively at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869; South Coast Village, on Sunflower across from South Coast Plaza, (714) 540-0594 or (714) 777-FILM (No. 323); and the Academy 6, 1003 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 229-9400.


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