VENICE - I haven't got my Peanuts archives to hand at the moment, unfortunately, but I think it was that pint-sized sage Linus Van Pelt who once opined that "there is no heavier burden than good intentions." Mira Nair's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," a commendably argumentative but airlessly diagrammatic plea for parity in the still-ragged post-9/11 dialogue between Islam and the West, feels that strain more than most. A somewhat speciously juiced-up adaptation of Mohsin Hamid's acclaimed 2007 novel, adding a shrill hostage-thriller framework to an otherwise theory-based study of mutable cultural and spiritual identity, it would be typical book-club cinema even without a noble literary source: distributors might want to consider handing a bulleted printout of Points For Discussion to patrons as they leave the cinema.
In a nutshell -- and the film is rather fond of nutshells -- "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" tells the story of Changez (Riz Ahmed), a young, whip-smart Pakistani immigrant whose vertiginous ascent up the Wall Street ladder begins to stall when the grim events of September 2001 raise external barriers of xenophobic American paranoia, not to mention internal concerns of cultural betrayal. It's material that seems tailor-made for the touch of Mira Nair, the maddeningly inconsistent Indian-American director, many of whose best films to date have focused on brittle clashes between Eastern and Western social and political mores, sometimes within a single character.