Baghdad Texas begins as a congenial xeno-fantasy by director David H. Hickey: a Middle Eastern dictator lands at the U.S.-Mexico border inadvertently after a plane crash and is eventually led to the American side by a group of well-meaning Mexicans en route to illegal alien-ness, only to be run over by a group of redneck drunk drivers who end up taking him to their ranch. After realizing the dictator is not just another “wetback,” the cowboys devise a plan to turn the dictator to the F.B.I. in the most profitable way while their Mexican housekeeper (scene-stealer Melinda Renna) develops a linguistically challenged relationship with the Arab man.
The first several minutes of Baghdad Texas are so visually uncommitted to special-effects seamlessness (the plane crash has the realistic believability of Méliès’s rocket to the moon) that they announce the hard-to-describe quirkiness of the film’s mood and form, which has echoes of Roy Adersson’s Songs from the Second Floor. Although Hickey’s film soon becomes less interested in obscuring its narrative than in unfolding its plot, its intentions remain, refreshingly, never quite clear.
Baghdad Texas is often bracketed by interesting and unexpected asides, rendered all the more moody by Booka Michel’s excellent music tracks. For instance, when one of the rednecks is driving through dirt roads with the bound and gagged dictator in the back of his pickup truck, attempting to extort as much self-serving glory and as many dollars as possible out of the so-called citizen’s arrest, we are granted a cutaway whose function feels solely atmospheric: two just-off-the-bed lovers, wearing nothing but towels and their underwear, stepping outside their home to grab a cigarette in a car. Who are these lovers and why are we permitted the quick pit stop to look at them? They are so happy in their post-coital laziness it drives the Texan Minute Man to yell out “Whore!” for no one to hear. Then he keeps zipping along the road and the film reverts back to more conventional cinematic intelligibility.
Although Baghdad Texas doesn’t really work as a comedy, or as an allegory on border diplomacy and war, its imagination is both honest and authentic. The film suggests, accurately, that the knee-jerk human (American?) reaction to being confronted with the foreign is to ask, “What is it doing here?” And to ask one’s self, “How could I take advantage of it?”