Triumph of virtue
Al-Basha Telmiz (Student Pasha), written by Bilal Fadl and directed by Wael Ihsan, is a Donnie Brasco-style comic thriller that manages, despite potentially disturbing subject matter, to remain a feel-good film. Karim Abdel-Aziz plays Basyouni Basyouni, the fledgling cop responsible for infiltrating a gang of drug-dealing suspects, rich students at a private university. As he becomes engrossed in the life of "the gang" -- "They are the victims of dysfunctional families, Pasha," he pleads with his superior General Nagdat (Hassan Hosni), "they are too fragile to be drug dealers" -- his focus seems to stray. He has a hunch that it is the university administration that imports the drugs in question, but at the last minute he fails to prove it.
In the process, as might well be expected, Basyouni falls in love with Enji (Ghada Adel), whose character changes for the better -- by which one should understand "more virtuous" -- as a result of their relationship. Through empathetic identification and concern Basyouni exercises the same influence over the rest of the gang. Even his adversary eventually comes to value his sincerity and good intentions. He has also mobilised the cleaning girl, a struggling Cairo University student who steals books from lockers. No sooner is he exposed for what he really is -- the knowledge that he has been deceiving her all along seems to devastate Enji -- than he is helped by the students and the cleaning girl to make a conclusive arrest, a ludicrously high-tech, Ninja-inspired sequence. The scene shifts to officer Basyouni being decorated for outstanding service while Enji and the others concentrate on their studies. And the happy ending concludes with a subtitle informing viewers that the university was from then on placed under the supervision of the Ministry of Higher Education -- a heart-warming reassurance if ever there was one.
Apart from the occasional, hilarious episode -- almost invariably this involves Hosni being caught up in a ridiculous situation engineered intentionally or involuntarily by Abdel-Aziz -- the film has little to recommend it. As a Karim Abdel- Aziz vehicle, it demonstrates how another member of the generation that brought Mohamed Heneidi and the late Alaa Waleyeddin to the fore can carry a light feature almost single-handedly. But Abdel- Aziz's endearing persona -- ingenuous, permanently if ridiculously over-enthusiastic, sometimes streetwise but often sympathetically ordinary and always on his way to some nominally sublime, actually laughable goal -- turns out to be inadequate for the more serious scenes in the film: the declarations of "true love" he exchanges with Enji, the distress consequent on being dismissed from the operation, the hatred he feels towards the true drug dealers. More importantly, neither Abdel-Aziz nor Hosni come across convincingly as cops. They are both too innocuous, too well-meaning and far too nice to impart the necessary edge, or the kind of nastiness that could have made them credible. Even as examples of the archetypal good cop neither are driven enough to sustain the required sense of danger. In stark contrast, as Hazem Hazem (the brother of Nagdat's wife and a former member of Basyouni's class at the police academy, now a largely undistinguished member of the vice squad), Mohamed Lotfi is both entertaining and convincing. Though, in line with the script, he never oversteps a preset boundary of good intentions, the young cop displays all the thick- skinned ambition and unintelligent desperation of his real-life counterparts. Neither his silliness, nor the audience's capacity for sympathising with him, undermine an inherent, reckless indecency that continues to strike a true chord even as he rushes to the aid of Basyouni during the climactic arrest.
Many aspects of the script are haphazarrdly strung. Some scenes are palpably unnecessary: others serve no purpose other than providing a framework for the characters' comic antics, many of which fail to induce laughter. As an action flick the film does not maintain any sense of suspense. Nor is the decadent culture of the well-to- do children of dysfunctional families -- a potentially engaging theme -- approached with any understanding. The lifestyle in question was never properly researched; and in spite of the occasional, cursory psychological gesture, the concerns and motives of the students -- and the shift in their attitudes towards life and education effected by the presence of Basyouni in their midst -- are in no way delineated. One leaves the auditorium in the knowledge that both the role of the police in society and the dissipation of the Westernised rich are themes that lend themselves not only to powerful dramatic treatment but to interesting visual effects as well. And notwithstanding the feel-good qualities of the ending, or indeed Abdel-Aziz and Hosni's largely endearing performances, to see two potentially relevant themes thrown away for a few disjointed laughs is annoying.