If the credits for The Stone Merchant didn't indicate otherwise, I'd swear Dick Cheney and a team of neocons had scripted this ludicrous Italian thriller about Islamist terrorists. You might think that post-9/11 realities would demand a serious-minded, complex treatment of terrorism, but you'd be wrong. The creators of this 2006 flick refuse to strain brain cells on such things. Instead, they more or less paint the entire Muslim world as al Qaeda operatives. The closest the picture comes to a positive Muslim is the titular character -- and he's a terrorist.
And that's not the worst of it. Contrivances abound. Leda (Jane March) is an Italian beauty who is briefly taken hostage by Islamic terrorists at the Rome airport. As fate would have it, she also happens to be the wife of an expert on terrorism, college professor Alceo (Jordi Molla). He teaches his class that Muslims seek world domination, but his paranoia stems from personal experience; Alceo lost both legs as a result of al Qaeda's 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi. Director Renzo Martinelli doesn't let you forget it, either, cramming in lots of superfluous, exploitive close-ups of legless Alceo struggling to maneuver around his apartment.
So Alceo is sympathetic when his beloved wife comes home distraught from the ordeal at the airport. He takes her on a vacation to take her mind off things, whisking her to the getaway paradise of ... a predominantly Muslim country, Turkey. There they conveniently experience car trouble. And just as conveniently, they are helped by a menacing passerby named Shahid (F. Murray Abraham).
In turn, Shahid introduces Alceo and Leda to a precious-stone merchant, Ludovico Vicedomini (Harvey Keitel, sporting a mane of hair that makes him look like an old-school orchestra conductor). Alceo is suspicious of the fawning attention that Ludovico pays his wife, and justifiably so. For, you see, Shahid and Ludovico are -- cue sound of rolling thunder -- Islamist terrorists! It seems Alceo and Leda have stumbled into a most insidious, not to mention unlikely, plot. Ludovico means to seduce Leda and dupe her into carrying a "dirty" bomb aboard a ship destined for England. (Evidently, this is a little-known sect of jihad that doesn't use suicide bombers).
That's a lot of contrivance to swallow in one motion picture, and whatever camp value might have been had from this dross is ruined by the filmmakers' heavy-handedness. Martinelli occasionally enlivens the proceedings with some visual flash around the edges -- quick edits, oblique camera angles, swish-pans -- but ultimately we are stuck with a dull, turgid soap opera boasting more conventions than a weekend in Vegas.
No complaints with the picture quality is solid, which is solid with crisp lines, strong colors and realistic skin tones. Aspect ratio is 1.85:1.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio mix is unremarkable, but the sound is clear and free of distortion or drop-out.
Thankfully, there are no extras to lengthen the film-going experience.
Ridiculously contrived and revealing a racist streak, The Stone Merchant deserves a good stoning.