Right off the bat, there are two telltale signs in the Hollywood adaptation of The Kite Runner that portend the safe, diluted entertainment about to unfold. Perhaps nervous that a prestige drama mostly told in the Afghani language of Dari, and headlined by a cast of unknown middle-Eastern actors, might not sell to the multiplexes, the producers have inserted a fancy, interminable credit sequence, backed by Alberto Iglesias’s overly insistent, lute-heavy score, and adorned with some faux-Persian, animated curlicues. Then it’s straight to the English-language San Francisco prologue, flatly filmed to look like any anonymous American studio project: kites flying at the beach, happy couple walking hand in hand. Soon enough, thirtysomething protagonist Amir, opening a package to find his newly published book, a la George McFly in Back to the Future, is flashing back to the apparently halcyon days of pre-Taliban Afghanistan.
Here, in 1978, Marc Forster devotes much screen time to the relatively universal trivialities of childhood, like watching glorious American movies and, of course, flying colorful kites — in another desperate attempt to grab the attention of an American audience possibly lulled by the traditional storytelling and proliferation of on-screen foreigners, the latter is rendered in intolerable, remarkably unconvincing CGI, as kites swoop and dip, and their apparently razor-sharp strings go mano a mano in goofy, impossible close-up. These sequences are the pandering tipping point for a film that actually might have coasted on its serviceable storytelling skills: on a narrative basis, Forster and screenwriter David Benioff keep things moving briskly and fluidly, and the actors are emotionally compelling enough that it’s easy, in the moment, to overlook the film’s central thematic dubiousness and specious cultural elisions.