Adel Imam's Ocean's Eleven
This offering for TV falls well below expected standards, according to Osama Kamal
Firqat Nagi Atallah (Nagi Atallah's Squad) is Adel Imam's first television serial in 30 years. His last undertakings for TV were Ahlam Al-Fata Al-Taer (Dreams Of The Fugitive Boy) in 1978, and Dumu Fi Uyun Waqeha (Tears In Insolent Eyes) in 1982.
Film stars of Imam's stature often regard television as a demotion, a place where one goes to work before retirement, or when the good film roles stop falling on the doormat. Imam's previous serials,however, were major hits -- proof that television is a powerful media on its own, not just a place for reviving sagging fortunes.
In his latest television show Imam, who has starred in more than 100 films over the past 40 years or so, plays the role of Nagi Atallah, an administrative attaché in the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Atallah is very hostile in his views about Israel, but nevertheless he believes that the conflict with Israel is not about war, but about culture and science. Outgoing by nature, Atallah has many Israeli friends -- unlike his colleague, the media attaché Gamal Abdel-Nasser, who cannot wait to be posted elsewhere.
Atallah cannot keep his hostile views to himself for long. He gives an interview to Al-Hayat al-Yawm, a television media service, in which he is less than diplomatic about Israel. As a result The Israelis punish him by freezing his assets in their banks and the Egyptians dismiss him from his post.
Undeterred, the flamboyant Atallah decides to rob the bank in question using information he obtained from the person who designed the bank's security system. From then on the plot follows closely that of Ocean's Eleven, with a touch of the Seven Samurai along the way.
Adel Imam and his script writer Youssef Maati are known for their propensity to borrow ideas from foreign films. Some of Imam's best known films, such as Wahda Bewahda (An Eye For An Eye), Khamsa Bab (Hatchback), Esabet Hamada We Totu (The Gang Of Hamadah And Tutu), Salaam Yasahbi (Peace, My Friend), and Amir Al-Zalam (Prince of Darkness) were all remakes of earlier films.
In this serial for television, Imam (Atallah) emerges as the most important character, eclipsing everyone around him. This is very much the formula he adopted as Ibrahim El-Tayer in Ahlam Al-Fata Al-Taer and Gomaa El-Shawwan in Dumu Fi Uyun Waqeha.
In each of these cases, Imam plays a resourceful, irreverent, and impetuous character, someone who could be the modern counterpart of the mediaeval Ali al-Zeibaq.
Nagi Atallah's Gang started out as a film script, but its production ran into trouble because of the mediocre revenues of Imam's last film, Bobbos. The TV serial finally got off the ground thanks to a joint production between Imam, who contributed $6 million, and Egyptian TV, which picked up the rest of the production's $15 million bill.
Two of Imam's sons were involved in the production. One is Rami, the director, and the other is Mohamed, who plays the role of Ibrahim, a gang member. Unfortunately, neither seems to share their father's ample talents. Rami, for example, makes repeated mistakes in portraying scenes in both Gaza and Israel, while Mohamed just cannot seem to pull it off as a comedian despite his solid performance as Taha El-Shazli in Emaret Yaqoubian (The Yaqubian Building) in 2006.
The show's portrayal of his hosts is also pathetic, with the Israelis coming across as a bunch of cartoon characters whom Atallah ridicules to no end. The Jews-are-stingy joke is hardly funny, when everyone knows that the Israelis are advanced in science and the economy and enjoy genuine freedom in their society.
Besides, administrative attachés usually focus on their administrative and financial tasks and are unlikely to have the kind of clout Atallah seems to have.
The Gaza we see in this drama is hardly similar to the Gaza of reality. Its women are Westernised; its men speak Lebanese Arabic; and its streets look modern. Its tunnels seem to be places where people go to have fun, not to work in risky and stressful conditions.
And you don't just go through a tunnel and travel from Gaza to Israel. If this were true, Israel would have been attacked much more often than happens in reality.
In brief, Nagi Atallah's Squad is a recycled and ill-conceived fantasy that fails to enlighten or entertain.