“No. I don’t need a piss now.”
You know that highly politicized stoner comedy about a Jew, Arab, and Christian locked together for six hours in an Israeli communications base on the Lebanese border you’ve been craving? Well, director Jac Mulder and writer Ziggy Darwish have delivered it with a punchline that pretty much writes itself. The film’s called Bordering on Bad Behavior and it’s a surprisingly introspective view on Middle East relations as well as the stubborn denial to admit wrongdoing by each side involved. Centering on an angry Israeli soldier and a lost Australian Arab egged on by an American in the middle, its comedic underpinnings are simultaneously broadly painted and pointed. As armchair peacekeeper mentality hypothesizes: Israel and Palestine simply need to sit and talk as fellow human beings to finally craft a solution. Obviously narcotics can only assist that end.
How the filmmakers get this unlikely trio together is an intriguing bit of blind fate with the potential to send all to their respective makers. There are personal flashbacks with tragic consequences setting them on their paths—a shared one in Tel Aviv for Ari (Oz Zehavi) and Baz (Bernard Curry) flirted with falling prey to unforgivable contrivance before thankfully dissolving into the background—but one could say it started centuries ago. What we see now is merely the latest chapter of an old story, currently ruled by religious zealots sacrificing lives on both sides for a ‘peace’ they each ironically define as power for themselves and oppression for their enemy. Ari recently dove back in, Baz just reacquainted himself with civilian life a week ago, and Bob (Tom Sizemore) is one day away from Dubai.
And yet here they are: three disparate souls in a war they have little actual stake in. Saying that is a gross generalization for someone with no real connection to his heritage like me—a third generation Lebanese American who is ethnically supposed to serve in Lebanon’s military as a rite of culture—but Ari is a European Jew, Baz a member of the Australian army in Lebanon to visit family, and Bob a redneck political science nerd recruited by Israel to teach new equipment. It just goes to show that no matter where you are in the world, something as huge as what’s happening in the Middle East cannot be ignored. This is especially true in America where media preconceptions easily taint one people while sanctioning another. As 9/11 showed, it eventually reaches home.
Long story short, Baz accidentally crosses the border and enters an Israeli compound he believed to be Lebanese. Upon seeing two soldiers in uniform with Hebrew patchwork, he quickly incapacitates them before they can impulsively attack. After all, an Arab wearing Lebanese colors (his cousin lent him a spare) walking into a secret Israeli base should probably be shot on sight. It doesn’t look good and you can’t blame Ari for not believing this stranger’s tale of wrong place/wrong time. Unfortunately for all involved, however, the time-locked door closes behind him and won’t be opened again for six hours. They can only imagine what a fresh team of soldiers will do upon seeing an “enemy combatant” inside, so Bob’s introduction of some barbiturates becomes a last hurrah if you will once tempers finally slow to a simmer.
What ensues is a spirited debate dealing with rights and wrongs and double-sided truths. Everyone attempts to catch the rest in a lie—or at least trip up the other’s way of thinking so he takes pause and accepts a modicum of responsibility for his people’s overzealousness. It comes in waves with profanity-laced insults slamming into each other out of aggression gradually evolving into a mutual respect of brotherhood and the emotional scars a never-ending war has carved into their flesh. Semantics about Semites, history lessons about Ottomans and European colonizers, and a kindred understanding that the benevolence in Dubai and Abu Dhabi needs to expand throughout the region fill the duration between joint puffs and bong hits. It’s actually an insightful back and forth shedding light on ego’s role in escalating relations beyond repair.
The laughs are plenty thanks to a wondrously over-the-top Sizemore milking the oafish American stereotype to its limit before showing signs of intellectual fortitude when the moment calls. He is the glue that deftly shifts between drama and comedy, always with a smile no matter which he’s asked to instill. Zehavi reminded me a lot of Tom Hardy in looks and movements—rough around the edges until the weed soothes him into a hard-edged, almost giddy demeanor that never wavers from his convictions. It’s just that those convictions often align with his Arab counterpart when both are willing to listen. For Curry’s part, I thought his Baz was the highlight. He isn’t a part of this war, but he refuses to back down when unwittingly forced to join it. He’s a humanitarian above race and religion.
Where Mulder and Darwish take things is a bit much—although any alternate direction probably would have screeched everything to a halt via too-heavy drama or sappy sentimentality—but the journey there is a welcome delight. Sadly, a climactic gunfight and its aftermath’s presidential dissing contest is clumsy and confusing while a trippy interlude of Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Mother Nature, and the Devil proves too random to not fall flat against an otherwise straightforward plot. The whole may skew far left into absurdity, but it staunchly remains grounded in reality until these glaring diversions in the final ten minutes. If there were more instances throughout I probably wouldn’t mind, but as is they seem more like a distraction hiding a lack of resolution. These three bonding despite their stereotypical differences, however, is resolution enough.