Making his feature film directorial debut, Kayvan Mashayekh maintains traditional storytelling technique in The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam, but at least produces a lovely-looking, capably made motion picture.

Mashayekh tells the ancient story of Omar Khayyam (1048-1122), though he begins with a modern-day narrative frame, set in Houston, about a Iranian-American boy named Kamran (Adam Echahly) who asks his brother, Nadar (Puya Behinaein), who is dying of leukemia, to relate the tale of Khayyam, the legendary mathematician, astronomer and Persian poet.

Since Kamran is a descendant of Khayyam, it is his duty to learn the story so he can later impart it to his children. Against the background of the Crusades, Nadar's version of events focuses on Omar's love for his former childhood friend, the beautiful Darya (Maria Espinosa), and how their relationship gets tested when Omar's friend, the religious zealot Hassan Sabbeh (Christopher Simpson), also falls for Darya. When Omar is called away to work in the court of the Sultan Malikshah (Moritz Bliebtreu), he becomes renowned for his poetry and philosophical insights.

Back in the present day, Nadar dies before finishing Omar's story and Kamran is encouraged by two different mentors (Vanessa Redgrave and Diane Baker) to learn more about Khayyam. Kamran even travels to England, where his grandfather lives, to hear the rest of the legend from his family's patriarch.

The Keeper has several nice things to recommend it, including a lush, colorful production and an interesting set of historical characters. Of particular note, Elton Ahi's score and Matthew Cantrell and Dusan Joksimovic's cinematography enrich the soundtrack and picture, respectively. Not many films are made about poets, let alone Middle Eastern poets, so that is another plus. The Keeper makes us want to learn as much about Omar Khayyam as little Kamran.

Unfortunately, there are flaws to the film, too. The most serious is that the historical scenes are like an old Hollywood production, actually worse in a way than the corny 1957 Omar Khayyam starring Cornel Wilde. In The Keeper, the dialogue is stilted and the acting is poor. For some reason, the modern-day scenes are much better, both in terms of the screenwriting and the performances (Echahly is touching as Kamran and Redgrave is always fascinating to watch).

Director Mashayekh's use of Farsi (with English subtitles) confers an authenticity to the contemporary scenes, but his decision to use English in the historical scenes is irritating and mystifying. (Just as odd is the dearth of Omar Khayyam's poetry.) Perhaps if such stylistic choices had turned the project into a strange, modernist text, The Keeper would be a triumph (like Sergei Parajanov's Color of Pomegranates, about revolutionary Armenian poet Sayat Nova). But it soon becomes clear that the film is utterly conventional, and one might wish for a more provocative theme than the importance of "keeping" one's heritage through storytelling. (Mashayekh skirts the thornier issue of how Khayyam was disliked by religious leaders for his Islamic faith.)

At least The Keeper looks great (who knew about Uzbekistan, where the ancient scenes were shot?) and there are more than a few entertaining moments along the way.

-Eric Monder