It might be asking a lot for a mainstream odd-couple road-trip movie to bear the dramatic heft of the heavy Israeli-Arab conflict, specifically the 1982 war with Lebanon, but “Zaytoun” — Arabic for “olive” — travels light, with an optimistic smile, no matter the stakes.
Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis (“The Lemon Tree”) and screenwriter Nader Rizq maneuver into place the unlikely pairing of a downed Israeli pilot, Yoni (Stephen Dorff), and a 12-year-old Palestinian refugee in Beirut named Fahed (Abdallah El Akal). Gruff, resourceful Yoni is escaping the clutches of the PLO, while his young companion — initially one of his captors — is eager to get back into the land of his ancestors so he can plant an olive tree for his dead father.
Along the way, they endure shootouts, a donkey ride and a minefield. If one continued to double down on all the metaphors, it might rub some the wrong way that Israel is represented by a tough, forceful adult who knows the way, while filling in for Palestine is a temperamental, lost boy. But even on a simplistic moral level, there’s some honest affection to their overly schematic journey, namely because the two leads keep sentimentality at bay even while contrivance around them rules. It’s just all too breezy to have any real effect.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Playing: Laemmle’s Royal Theatre, Los Angeles; Laemmle’s Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena (Saturday-Sunday matinees only); Edwards Westpark 8, Irvine