Bagdad Cafe

One certainly can't accuse German filmmaker Percy Adlon (Celeste, Sugarbaby) of opting for the tried and true in his first American effort (1988). A hefty Bavarian tourist (Sugarbaby's Marianne Sagebrecht) splits from her husband and finds herself stranded at a truck-stop motel near the Mojave Desert, run by a black woman (CCH Pounder) who has just broken up with her own husband. Gradually, the hausfrau brings some light and magic into the lives of all those around her, and even gets a nightclub magic act going. With the help of cinematographer Bernd Heinl and some occasional oddball editing, Adlon gives his film a rather distinctive look. Unfortunately, the film's curious conceits remain implausible even on a fantasy level, and most of the satirical possibilities are either sidestepped or fumbled; despite some superficial resemblances to Werner Herzog's Stroszek, there is almost none of that film's cantankerous charm. The film is actually closer to Pollyanna, and Pounder's stagy performance seems especially out of sync with everyone else's. With Jack Palance, Monica Calhoun, George Aquilar, Darron Flagg, G. Smokey Campbell, Alan S. Craig, Ronald Lee Jarvis, and Christine Kaufmann—very much of an all-weirdo cast by design, but it doesn't really get the movie moving.

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