In his CairoScene debut, Emad El-Din Aysha (PhD) looks at Egypt's latest Hollywood rip off; a shame given the star's acting credentials.
Ostensibly, the oddly titled Shadd Agzaa (2015) is about a begrieved cop, Omar (Mohamed Ramadan), out to get those who murdered his wife while trying to kill him. He wipes out all the people responsible but destroys his career in the process and breaks the law in ways even he feels he has to atone to. Graciously he hands himself in at the end.
Yet, once again, we have rip-off. In this case from the Vin Diesel cop drama/action movie A Man Apart (2003). That film was about a DEA agent, Sean Vetter (Vin Diesel), on the rampage after a mysterious Columbian drug lord calling himself Diablo (the devil) trying to kill Sean only to kill his awesome wife Stacy (Jacqueline Obradors) instead. In the process Sean loses his moral bearings and has to cooperate with Diablo’s rival, Memo Lucero (Geno Silva), a man he put in prison himself. Things go downhill from there.
The scene where Omar wakes up in the hospital asking for his wife is identical to the same scene in A Man Apart, even though he measured her pulse when she got shot. The whole 'if I wanted you dead, you’d be dead' angle is in both movies. Even the hairstyle Omar is wearing is like Vin Diesel’s, and you have other cheap imitations in there, such as the scene where the inn-keeper helps with Omar’s wounds, telling him to drink juice first from her experience as a nurse. (Even the audience sitting next to me found that ‘foreign’; they don’t do things like that at hospitals here).
It’s so damn obvious they’re not even trying to hide it. Look at the title – Shadd Agzaa. Translated, it literally means pulling parts. I guess they figured the movie they’re ripping off is so old that no one would remember. Fortunately, I do!
Mixed Bag of Meat Loaf
To be fair, not that there’s any reason to be fair, Shadd Agzaa is actually a good movie. It’s well made, the action sequences are impressive and original, the soundtrack is good and emotive and the performances are solid throughout. The politicsof it aren't half bad either. In one of the better scenes Omar persuades a religious youth to cooperate, not the torture tactics he uses with everybody else. It’s a Sobki production, after all.
Mohamed Ramadan’s also proven himself physically, not that he was ever in doubt, and it’s good to see Egyptian cinema moving more definitely into the action genre. He’s fast becoming Egypt’s Will Smith, an intense performer who’s keen to show off his muscles in (the very American) exercise and shower scenes.
What bothered me was the lopsided sliming and fattening that took place in the process of adaptation. A Man Apart is not the best revenge movie out there and has many of its own flaws, but it had a good plot twist at its heart and the moral setup of the story carries the movie along very nicely. Sean is a man split right down the middle. Should he listen to the advice of his angelic friend – his DEA partner Demetrius Hicks (Larenz Tate) – and stick to the law or go with the devilishly cunning Memo who whispers in his ears to fight a monster you have to become a monster”. (Guess who Diablo turns out to be in the end?)
That’s the whole point of the title. A man apart normally means someone who is different from the rest, such as someone who takes the law into his own hands, but here clearly also means someone falling apart. Sean positively adored his wife, someone who kept him sane and I’d wager kept him off the street in his youth. Demetrius almost went down the slippery slope of gangsterism himself in the movie, if my memory serves me correct. Thanks to Demetrius, Sean sees the light just before it’s too late – note the scene where’s they’re about to cut his ‘eyes’ out – and bags the bad guy with the long arm of the law, which is a lot more than I can say for Shadd Agzaa.
Cops here are portrayed as airy fairy people who can’t get suspects to confess and have to do everything by the book, waiting for the courts to foul things up. In America that goes without saying, but it doesn’t wash with the Egyptian audience. This misplaced sentiment is all the more amazing given that the people responsible for Welad Rizk – where the cops are either heavy handed or on the take – were also responsible for Shadd Agzaa. The actor who plays the corrupt cop in the first movie is the same guy who plays a criminal here that Omar mistakenly thinks killed his wife.
Beggars Can be Choosers
To make matters worse, there’s annoying class politics in the movie. Omar’s wife Aya – played by the adorable Donia Samir Ghanem – has some doubt shed over her ‘honour’, hardly a nice thing in itself, only to have this issue left unresolved by the end of the movie. A woman watching the film understood the significance of this perfectly. She said, the message is that a man shouldn’t ruin his career over someone who might not deserve it.
That’s hardly morally sophisticated is it and it fits in with the snake stereotype Arabic men have of women. Casting Donia Samir Ghanem was also a bit annoying in itself since you don’t get an actress of her calibre only to kill her off so early on in the storyline. Note the contrast here between the inn-keeper (Nesreen Amin, also from Welad Rizk) who helps Omar out, hiding him from both the cops and the bad guys. She’s a reformed prostitute who was once arrest by Omar himself, but now has learned her lesson and is busy preserving her honour. Just typical that the soft, white-skinned babe would be tarred while the bint balad (country or local girl) gets off scot free. (She’s in the movie poster, whilst Omar’s own wife isnt!) Omar’s friend, played by smoothy Mohamed Shahin from Tamer we Shawqeya, is the guy he goes to for money and fancy gifts. Guess who was betraying him all along?
To add insult to injury none of this praising of working class honour is for real. The poor are portrayed in the most miserable manner possible. The criminal Omar wastes his time trying to nab, the annoying named Iraqi (Mohamed Mamdouh), at one point slices his belly and face with a penknife to protest his innocence. Again, baladi people are shown to be emotional animals who can’t control anything about themselves. There’s also the local wedding where the hosts try to warn off the bad guys whilst pretending to be law abiding citizens, leading all of them (guests included) to be arrested. The guy doing the arresting, Omar’s best friend and superior is played by the upper class Yasser Galal.
Legendary actor Nour El-Sherif always warned us about Egyptian movies that pretend to praise the working masses, directed by people as upper class and rightwing as you can get. This is one of them, albeit quite an entertaining example. Nonetheless, when all is said and done, it’s still a hell of a lot better than the disgusting Welad Rizk!!)