Wednesday,23 January, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1351, (6 - 12 July 2017)
Wednesday,23 January, 2019
Issue 1351, (6 - 12 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Arrested development

Hani Mustafa is disappointed with Al-Sobki’s Eid offering

Emergency Escape
Emergency Escape

Every Eid, production companies attempt to enlist as many popular stars as possible to draw in the largest crowds. And that is what Al-Sobki have managed with Ahmed Khaled Moussa’s Horoub Idtirari (or “Emergency Escape”), which premiered last week. 

Bringing together both film stars and newer actors who have become household names thanks to Ramadan television serials over the last three years, Emergency Escape features action film star Ahmed Al-Saqqa, who also starred in Ahmed Khaled Moussa’s Ramadan serial Black Horse this year; Amir Karara, the star of Peter Mimi’s Kalabsh; Fathi Abdel-Wahhab, one of the stars of Mohamed Shakir Khodair’s Do Not Let the Sun Set; Ghada Adel, who took part in Rami Imam’s Adli Allam’s Ghosts; the rising comedy star Mustafa Khater, who was the centre of Moataz Al-Touni’s She’s Lost It; Dina Al-Sherbini, who played the lead in both Islam Khairi’s Satan’s Hope and Hisham Fathi’s Smartly Concluded; and Ahmed Zaher, the star of Hussein Shawkat’s Case C. The producers did not rest content with such an all-star cast, either; they also feature cameos by Ahmed Wafiq, Ahmed Fahmi, Ahmed Farrag, Bayoumi Fouad and Bassem Samra.

More usually in such films Al-Saqqa would play the lead, leaving little room for the other roles — a fairly frequent formula for box office stars like comedians Mohamed Heneidi and Mohamed Saad, social drama/romantic comedy stars like Karim Abdel-Aziz and Ahmed Ezz as well as action stars like Al-Saqqa and Mohamed Ramadan. Al-Saqqa had made his name gradually, however, performing secondary roles in numerous serials and films all through the slump of the 1990s, when no more than 10 films were produced every year. Later Al-Saqqa took part in such comedies as Heneidi’s 1998 An Upper Egyptian at the American University, directed by Sherif Arafa, which was one of the films that raised viewing rates; once again film theatre tickets were being sold on the black market for the first time in a decade. Since action films cost more than comedies, they did not start being made until later when the industry had picked up speed. That is when Al-Saqqa appeared on the scene, developing a reputation for refusing to employ a double in the more dangerous shots. 

Written by Ahmed Al-Sayed Bashir, Emergency Escape is Moussa’s debut. It opens somewhat too quickly with the arrest of Adham (Al-Saqqa) and several other Harley Davidson bikers in what amounts to the filmmakers confusing a perfectly harmless and legal upper-class Egyptian weekend pastime with Hells Angels-type criminality. Also arrested is a young man named Youssef (Mustafa Khater) — he is taken from outside the mobile phone shop he owns with a partner — and a woman named Nada (Ghada Adel). The police are also looking for a small-time drug dealer named Mustafa (Amir Karara). All are implicated in the murder of a businessman (Ahmed Farrag) at his flat. Two separate police forces are deployed, from the ministry and the local station, led by two detective majors who clearly don’t get on: Essam Al-Mahrouqi (Fathi Abdel-Wahhab) and Ayman Ghali (Ahmed Al-Awadi). The dialogue suggests that it is because he divorced his wife and was passed over for promotion that Essam is inimical, but the director is not interested in such human details, only in opportunities to stage chases and shootouts. 

And the action scenes no doubt cost a lot regardless of their positioning or importance to the criminal investigation. From the first few scenes on we see numerous cars being destroyed. Many shots are formulaic and have been seen over and over in Hollywood action flicks: a car jumping over a bridge, which is what happens in the course of chasing Mustafa and Youssef; a motorbike going down some steps only to slide underneath a lorry. Such shots, copied to the letter, are transported into the streets of Cairo. For its part the script relies on innocent suspects running away from the police in search of proof of their innocence while, determined to catch them, the police ignores the real culprit until a Les Miserables-like vendetta develops. In this sense the film recalls Roy Higgins’ hit show The Fugitive (1963-1967), or rather Andrew Davis’ 1993 eponymous film adaptation, starring Harrison Ford.

Hardly any attention is paid to the characterisation or dramatic structure, but it is unclear whether this is the writer or the director’s fault. It could be that the script started out being this week, but it could also be that the director’s focus on the action sequences drove him to cut short dramatically important scenes; my feeling is that the script is too defective for the director and editor to make a difference either way. We know nothing about the characters of the film so we can’t understand their motives, for one thing. This is clear with regard to the main characters, Adham, Nada, Mustafa and Youssef: apart from hints like Youssef having problems  with his father (Mahmoud Al-Guindi) or Nada being a divorcee with a daughter. Among the obvious faults of the script is the use of an unjustified and irritating coincidence when the viewer discovers halfway through that Adham’s girlfriend Malak (Dina Al-Sherbini), a doctor who is constantly trying to help him, turns out to be Ayman’s sister — something that Essam uses against him.

It can finally be said that Emergency Escape is a weak, cinematically unimpressive film despite its exceptional cast. Effective action sequences are enough to make any film successful, but in this case they are not supplemented with the even more essential component of narrative. The film lacks a storyline, a meaningful chronology or a tight structure. However difficult such elements, they are necessary — and the emergency landing on which the film title plays — huroub being close in sound to hubout — is no escape from such unacceptable quality.

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