JIMMY VESTVOOD: AMERIKAN HERO (2016) review
written by: Maz Jobrani and Amir Ohebsion
produced by: Maz Jobrani, Amir Ohebsion and Ray Moheet
directed by: Jonathan Kesselman
runtime: 84 min.
U.S. release date: September 23-29, 2016 (Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL )
You may not have heard of Iranian-born writer/comedian/actor Maz Jobrani, but you’ve probably seen him and didn’t even realize it. The nationalized American citizen (he’s lives in the States since he was a young child) has appeared in numerous television shows since 2001 (from “Chicago Hope” to “True Blood” to a new sitcom “Superior Donuts” based in Chicago) often stereotypically portraying a doctor or a terrorist or just that laughably naive A-rab guy. To say Jobrani knows a thing or two about such stereotypes and racial profiling, would be an understatement. With “Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero”, he co-writes and stars in a comedy that incorporates an awareness of certain prejudices, along with his own experiences, creating a satire that resembles a mashup of “Borat” and “Austin Powers”, although not as raunchy as the former and not as randy as the latter.
Jobrani plays Jam Shit, an Iranian traffic cop named Jamsheed Faqdaenpul who just won the green card lottery, allowing he and his mother, Maman (Vida Ghahremani) to emigrate to America, just as he always dreamed. The two travel to Los Angeles, where they plan on staying with Leila (Sheila Vand, “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”), his seventh cousin who curiously has a huge crush on him. Due to a hilarious misunderstanding during a comical interrogation at LAX by ICE (that’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement) – the agent asks him to ask less “terrorist-y” – his name is changed to Jimmy Vestvood. He’s obsessed with Steve McQueen (circa “Bullit”) for some reason and is determined to find work as a private investigator in America, complete with McQueen’s tan suede jacket. Well, that doesn’t happen right away. First, he finds work as a security guard at a Persian grocery story run the butcher, Mehdi (Marshall Manesh), who has a crush on Jimmy’s mother. On the side, Jimmy starts to promote his own detective service and is assisted by his persistent cousin, despite Jimmy’s refusal.
When footage goes viral of a hilarious outburst with a United States flag that occurred prior to his arrival in the States, Jimmy is labeled as a jihad terrorist by 24/7 Kox News Channel commentator, Hank Shannity (Matthew Glave) and these misunderstanding leads Jimmy into some crazy situations. A local arms dealer, JP Monroe (John Heard) hires Jimmy to follow his wife, Marcy Monroe (Deanna Russo) and see if she’s cheating on him. Through his inept and hilarious investigative approach, Jimmy learns Marcy has a carnal affinity for Persian guys, as she’s seen multiple times with Malek (Waleed Zuaiter), but he unknowingly becomes involved in a conspiracy that could trigger World War III.
Referred to as “the Persian Pink Panther”, Jobrani is a founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, which aired on Comedy Central and his two Showtime stand-up specials can currently be found on Netflix. He’s quite funny here as he and co-writer Amir Ohebsion, emphasize and exaggerate the preconceptions Americans have of the Middle East – such as everyone looks alike and is an Arab and probably a terrorist – leaving plenty of room for ridiculous misconceptions. Jobrani’s Jimmy is absurd and clueless, yet so utterly harmless that director Jonathan Kesselman (“The Hebrew Hammer”) really doesn’t have to do much to create laughs other than let the camera follow Jobrani around from one funny situation to the next.
Jobrani is surrounded by some game supporting actors, all of whom portray characters with their own comic timing intact. It’s the exuberant Sheila Vand who stands out in each scene she’s in. Her obsessive behavior and dorky persistence is quirky and awkward and has an endearing presence that’s hard to dismiss. While Jobrani carries the movie, Vand’s expressive interaction with him is often the highlight of the movie.
The problem with “Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero” is that it starts off really good, but the more time the character remains in Los Angeles, the more the jokes and innuendos become tiringly cyclical. It becomes much more formulaic and less biting commentary (political or ethnic) as the story unfolds and becomes a movie that relies more on comical scenes and moments than it care to deliver a clever story that holds a mirror up to the absurdity we often see in the real world.