Isn’t it funny how certain films are able to strip previously decent actors of all and any talent? Like paint-stripper, whooosh. Gone. I spent last night trying to find where the director of “El-Moshtabah (The Suspect) might have hidden Amr Waked and Bassem Samra’s talent, unsuccessfully.
Waked himself has disassociated himself from the film. In an interview with the Al-Shorouk newspaper, he said that he walked out halfway through an advance screening; such was his disgust at how awful the film is, and demanded that certain scenes be re-shot. First-time director Mohamed Hamdy – whose cinematic capabilities are “extremely limited according to Waked – agreed, but did not keep the promise.
Waked told Al-Shorouk that he has abandoned the ugly bastard child of the “The Suspect, and considers that he only has one film out this summer, the well-received “Ibrahim El-Abyad.
Two of the friends I saw “The Suspect with also attempted to escape the film. They spent most of the film’s duration looking for pretexts to flee its direness, getting popcorn and going to the toilet, bobbing up and down like life buoys. Meanwhile, I laughed, as before me this monstrosity of a film blundered its way towards the final credits.
The signs that something was wrong were there from the very beginning. Respected musician Wagih Aziz was brought on to provide the score, but he got the paint-stripper treatment too. The result is the world’s most intrusive, most inappropriate, most ridiculous film score, ever, with which we are barraged from the very start.
“The Suspect is supposedly a thriller. Why then, as we watch cars in flames and people fleeing death, do we hear muzak, an odd, interminable, very vaguely oriental mush? Imagine watching “Goodfellas with Kenny G and his saxophone covers playing at the background and you’ll get the drill.
So there we are; Waked and Sawsan Badr about to go tête-à-tête in a potentially tense scene, and suddenly an instrumental “Jingle bloody “Bell Rock or something akin to it bursts forth. Whoever is responsible for musical direction in this film has an approach similar to deaf sign-language subtitles, namely that everything, every emotion, every gesture, should be translated into music.
Unfortunately the music and the emotion rarely coincide. The musical director was apparently blindfolded when he directed the score.
Perhaps they could have just turned up the music really loud, and turned “The Suspect into a silent movie, or a musical, it wouldn’t have made much difference. At least this way we would have been spared the dialogue. Much of the film is, in any case, physical, by which I mean that people never stop running.
In case you’re wondering, they’re running away from a mysterious killer. Waked (who, to add salt to the wound of his embarrassment at the film, appears twice, in the form of twin brothers) is Maged. Maged’s brother Moataz was killed in an unexplained road accident. Ever since the accident Maged, his mother Sawsan Badr, Moataz’s widow Sahar (played by Boshra) and daughter Mai, have been terrorized by a masked, knife-wielding maniac who repeatedly succeeds in entering their villa without, apparently, any of them considering a review of home security.
We see the family burying Moataz, who was last seen motoring away from the villa in his BMW, incandescent with rage at the possibility that Sahar might be having it away with another bloke. The funeral is interrupted by police officer Sherif Beih (Samra), who arrives in a customized Jeep Wrangler of the type favored by lothario diving instructors, wearing horrid I-give-you-good-price 1980s plastic sunglasses. We subsequently discover that Sherif Beih is an upstanding, principled, and dull police officer, despite his sartorial gigolo tendencies.
To remind us that Badr is an old woman, she has been given a streak of white hair Cruella de Vil-style, making her look like a couple of pigeons with dysentery have wiped their bottoms on her head.
Seven-year-old Mai gives the film’s best performance, mainly because her role is limited to saying two lines and being carted about by the adults.
The film is essentially a tiresome murder mystery. What secrets lurk in Sahar’s past? Could Moataz still be alive? Why is Maged so cagey? Will Mai ever speak? Why does everyone’s name begin with M? In the middle of all this, a character named Murad floats around, making sudden appearances in the villa, uninvited, without anyone minding. Who he is exactly, or where he has appeared from is never really explained, but he has a great big red arrow pointing at him throughout the duration of the film.
In case we aren’t able to pose these questions ourselves, the villa’s bawab (security guard) and his wife do it for us, slapping their cheeks in a distraught, country bumpkin manner about their employers’ plight while the audiences wonder what exactly is the point of these characters.
The knife-wielding murderer sequences are largely tedious, as expected, with the exception of one hilariously-bad scene conducted in the hospital where Mai is taken, possibly in shock at only being given two lines. Remarkably, the family has checked Mai into the emptiest hospital in Egypt. Pointless, lingering shots of empty ward corridors thoughtfully let the audience know that a chase scene is in the offing, and that it will be long, since this is apparently a hospital which functions without patients and only one nurse, who Sahar witnesses being strangled by the man in black. She decides that the best thing to do would be to ‘hide’ Mai in the bathroom while she herself legs it.
The ruse works because the killer is clearly stupider than Sahar, and there then follows an endless chase scene; Sahar dashing around at approximately -0.5 miles per hour in stiletto heels like a snake on stilts, the click-clack of her heels echoing around the empty hospital, but apparently insufficiently loudly enough for the killer to locate her.
Interestingly, the hospital basement car park to which Sahar flees was full of vehicles, despite being uninhabited above, we noted in between almost expiring from laughter.
Needless to say all this is accompanied by the lift music.
Further guffaws were drawn from the audience when Sherif Beih drew a gun on someone with such stiffness, at such a 90 degree angle, that it was like watching a bridge being lowered. Better still is when, at the film’s Scooby Doo denouement after a ‘dramatic’ shoot-out, Sherif Beih asks Magdy whether he’s OK, and Magdy replies “I’m OK, with the emotion of a catatonic mushroom.
Ultimately viewing this film was surreal. I kept asking myself whether it was all an elaborate tongue-in-cheek send-up, or a tribute to Egyptian 1980s kitsch, in the manner of Tarantino’s “Grindhouse – particularly when during the screening, the lights went up at the intermission, the film stopped, relieved audience members were gratefully lifting themselves out of their seats only for the film to suddenly and without warning start five seconds later. It would seem that even the projectionist wanted the pain to end as soon as possible.