Phil Bray, Dreamworks Pictures
Ahmad Kahn Mahmidzada and Zekeria Ebrahimi in "Kite Runner."

THE KITE RUNNER — ** — Khalid Abdalla, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada; with English subtitles (Middle Eastern dialects); rated PG-13 (violence, profanity, rape, slurs, vulgarity, brief gore)

The movie version of "The Kite Runner" succeeds in at least one respect: It does make you want to check out the source material to see what has been glossed over.

Director Marc Forster and screenwriter David Benioff have turned the best-selling novel into an unsatisfying drama. It feels like a cinematic CliffsNotes version of Khaled Hosseini's book.

That being said, it is handsomely photographed and is well-acted (especially by the youngest cast members), even if the plotting is a little sketchy and overall it doesn't feel very substantive.

Audiences should also be warned that there is some very upsetting material, including a scene that depicts the rape of a young boy.

"The Kite Runner" examines the friendship between Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada), two Afghan youths.

However, a shameful bullying incident seriously tests that friendship, as the more-privileged Amir finds that he is unable — and perhaps a bit unwilling — to console Hassan.

Years later, Amir (now played by Khalid Abdalla) is happily settled in the United States when he receives an urgent telephone call. A voice from the past offers Amir an opportunity to redeem himself by returning to Afghanistan.

Forster ("Finding Neverland") and Benioff's adaptation is more successful in those earlier sequences. Young newcomers Ebrahimi and Mahmidzada give unforced, natural performances and are very likable.

But the plotting in the present-day scenes comes off as contrived and predictable. And Abdalla seems tentative and confused.

"The Kite Runner" is rated PG-13 for strong scenes of violence (a stabbing, gunplay, vehicular mayhem and some animal cruelty), scattered strong profanity and other sexual language (including one use of the so-called "R-rated" curse word and crude slang), sexual assault of a child, slurs based on race and ethnicity, and brief gore. Running time: 122 minutes.

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