I was warned by various people about the mediocrity of Karim Abdel Aziz vehicle Khareg 3al el-Qanoon (the Outlaw) but, buoyed by the excellence of Egyptian action flick El-Gezira (the Island) and in the absence of an alternative, I went anyway.
I repented this decision at leisure, during the course of two excruciatingly long hours largely spent trying to work out if this was a re-make of another film or just a crazy quilt of the plots of every single gangster film ever made.
Writer Bilal Fadl sticks to the classic recipe for a gangster film which is as follows; take one small boy and make him witness his father’s death at the hands of the police. Add him to a large drug-lord masquerading as a businessman who is also the boy’s uncle and leave to stew for twenty years. When nicely done, add a tough-talking cop to this mixture who will supposedly create flavour by making the small boy turned heir to the drug throne suspect that his uncle played a part in his father’s death. Add garnish in the form of a wife/mistress/girlfriend. Try to enjoy.
I suppose that there perhaps was potential here for an interesting - albeit unoriginal - study in revenge, but director Ahmed Galal put pay to that by combining fantastical action sequences with dialogue so dull it made me regret that I have ears.
Take one of the film’s major action scenes for example. In it hero Omar (Abdel Aziz) is conducting a drug deal in the desert. The deal is busted by cop Rashad (Ahmed Said Abdel Ghany) who has approximately 240,000 arms-wielding policemen in tow. The inevitable gun battle begins during which men die more quickly than my will to live – all except our hero Omar of course who apparently has bullet-proof skin.
(A note in passing about Abdel Ghany: he seems to have a monopoly on police officers at the moment. No sooner did he finish policing the slums of Heyna Maysara then here he is fighting crime again – which is fine, except that in both films he wore exactly the same jeans and suit jacket).
Omar spurns the 4x4 jeeps and other fast-moving vehicles on offer and chooses to make his getaway in a articulated lorry, which is an unconventional approach but, we realise, one necessary for the action sequences which will ensue. Thus Omar and his lorry crash through a wall of police cars before he executes a vaguely-spectacular handbrake spin, again into a line of policemen conveniently assembled for this purpose.
The lorry is inevitably badly damaged during all this kafuffle but, luckily, it appears to have a self-repairing function which allows Omar to go head-to-head in a game of chicken with Rashad in a moment lacking any suspense whatsoever.
Funnily enough, Rashed in his 4x4 loses against Omar and his articulated lorry – fancy that! He swerves off the road and the car spins but Omar emerges intact, clutching the fashion sunglasses which almost everyone in the film sports most conspicuously.
The dialogue was entirely forgettable and revolved around the usual themes of betrayed trust and good vs. bad, interspersed with particularly annoying exchanges between Omar and his squeeze, played by Maya Nasri. Omar has married Maya in a secret ‘urfi ceremony and installed her in a flat where he visits her and carries out domestic pursuits like fixing lamps while Maya moans in a high-pitched wail about wanting to get married officially and have kids.
The unique point of Maya’s character seems to be to provide a moral conflict for Omar as he ‘evolves’ - or rather makes a 180 degree change overnight. Omar spends the first half of the film telling Maya that in Egypt “the son of the general becomes a general and the son of the drug dealer becomes a drug dealer” and that for this reason he will never reproduce.
Up pop Rashad and his sunglasses and half an hour later Omar is asking Maya’s mother for her daughter’s hand in marriage.
It is this which is the film’s essential flaw: the characters are so two-dimensional that attempting to saddle them with emotion or feeling is like trying to paint the Mona Lisa using crayons.
In fact when Rashad is blown up in a car bomb I didn’t feel moved in the slightest. My exact feelings were: one down, three to go.
It is perhaps for this reason that the film’s director chose to make Omar spend all but one of the film’s scenes (when he is chopping cucumbers in Maya’s kitchen) furiously smoke cigarettes. The effect is of a giant Post-It note plastered on Abdel Aziz’s head on which is scrawled BEHOLD! THIS MAN IS TROUBLED – particularly given the numerous close-ups of his overflowing ashtrays and endless inhalations.
Unfortunately, the directorial obsession with cigarettes comes a cropper in one scene where a cigarette mysteriously grows longer during its journey from the ashtray to Omar’s mouth.
A word has to be said about Hassan Hosny and, in particular, the disastrous casting choice which led to an inoffensive light-comedy actor playing a Godfather-type role.
While Hosny does possess Brando-like jowls, the comparison ends there. He was completely unsuited to the role, lacking the quiet menace which one associates with a homicidal drug baron and was instead vaguely ridiculous in his false eyebrows. His choice for the role was even more disastrous given his pivotal part his character plays in the plot.
But then this is a film which contented itself with looking good, with slickly dressed policemen and Italian sunglasses and the jerky camerawork and fast zoom in and outs which were de rigueur a couple of years ago but which are now just annoying.
I was happy to exit this film but annoyed - as I usually am after subjecting myself to an action film - that its makers had troubled themselves to sandwich together the action scenes (which are the film’s raison d’etre) with insipid and boring dialogue. If they had just pieced together the car chases and shoot-outs back to back we could have all gone home much earlier.
Originally published in Daily News Egypt