DOUGH, comedy, not rated, The Screen, 2.5 chiles
“A Jewish baker and an Muslim refugee walk into a bakery…” Sounds like the setup to a corny old joke, right? Well, it’s also the beginning of a plot summary for this lighthearted but ultimately flat movie from John Goldschmidt. Honestly, the joke probably would’ve been funnier.
Curmudgeonly widower Nat Dayan (Jonathan Pryce) owns a struggling kosher bakery. A local developer named Sam Cotton (Philip Davis) heads a huge corporate chain and is scheming to snatch up Nat’s bakery or drive him out of business. Nat gets no support from his son, a high-powered lawyer who has no interest in the family business and just wants his father to sell out and retire. When Nat’s assistant quits and takes a job with Cotton, Nat hires Ayyash (Jerome Holder), a Muslim refugee from Darfur, not realizing the kid plans to use the job as a cover for his other gig, selling marijuana. You can see the hijinks coming from a mile away: Some weed ends up in the challah dough, and suddenly Nat’s bread is flying off the shelf.
Writers Jonathan Benson and Jez Freedman couldn’t leave well enough alone, though, diluting the simple, silly story of a drug-fueled screwball comedy with warmed-over lessons about religious and racial tolerance. Nat is an old British Jew; Ayyash is a young African Muslim. Nevertheless, after some awkward moments and misunderstandings, they develop an odd-couple friendship — because, hey, it turns out that Jews and Muslims actually have things in common, like prioritizing faith and family, and an old man can actually learn a thing or two from a young whippersnapper and vice versa. There’s nothing wrong with a hopeful message about unity, especially in these complicated times, but couldn’t they find a fresher way of delivering it?
Otherwise-gritty situations (mostly those to do with the drug trade) feel nonthreatening, and the fact that dozens of people unwittingly ingest pot-laden bread is utterly implausible (not to mention that dumping a bag of shake into some dough isn’t how edibles are made anyway). A few unnecessary minor subplots — involving Pauline Collins as a desperate, lonely widow and Ian Hart as Ayyash’s dealer — just distract.
Performances help keep things aright. Pryce is wonderful as always, balancing sober sincerity with lightheartedness, seen during interactions with his granddaughter and some silly antics involving an exercise ball. He and Holder have a believable, dynamic father-and-son-style chemistry. Collins holds her own, despite her one-note role.
Of course, you know where the story is headed: Characters will endure hardships, learn lessons, come to respect one another, and ultimately bond. Evil, greedy forces will be foiled. It’s too bad the makers of Dough tossed so many good ingredients into the mix, because what they ended up with is mostly stale.
Half-baked: Jerome Holder and Jonathan Pryce