Amany Ali Shawky
Involuntary Compulsive Laughter Syndrome (ICLS) occurs in audience members who desperately need to laugh in a cinema regardless of the quality or content of the movie they are watching. It’s a result of the physical and psychological urge to have the correct reaction when a stimulant is presented.
When I bought my ticket for Ahmed al-Gendy’s Al-Harb al-Alameyya al-Talta (Third World War), showing in cinemas now, I went in with one only expectation: a good laugh.
I’ve been an admirer of Ahmed Fahmy, Sheeko and Hisham Maged. Even with their remake of the 1980s American blockbuster Back to the Future (Sameer, Shaheer wa Baheer, 2010) they managed create interest with a hilarious take on 1970s life from the perspective of three college students from the new millennium.
But Third World War is a weak, lame and annoying adaptation of the substandard American children’s comedy, Night at the Museum (2006), starring Ben Stiller. Even with its special effects and a cameo by renowned comedian Samir Ghanem, the film offers nothing but a few cheap (sometimes offensive) laughs.
It’s what El-Sobky Productions typically do, just packaged differently: Instead of thugs, shaabi music and a belly-dancer, this film depends on an already successful comedic trio. But it has gutted them of any substance or storytelling skill.
I blame the film’s box office success on ICLS: The audience is conditioned to produce laughter at the sight of Fahmy, Sheeko and Maged. But Third World War is a very bad joke.
I’m finding it difficult to remember the film. It doesn’t offer much to grasp onto, and it mostly looks like a generic children’s fantasy movie. But I remember that it takes place in a fictional wax museum in Cairo. The wax figurines come to life, providing the film with a large cast of male characters (and Om Kalthoum).
A main thread is that Aladdin needs to help Tutankhamun get his book of hieroglyphics back from Marilyn Monroe, while Hitler plots to take over the world with the museum’s evil director.
But it seems the film was worked out as it went along: rather than an overall story line, it has a large number of minor plot twists constructed around producing the maximum number of gags, mainly consisting of all the main characters repeatedly betraying each other. You have to try really, really hard to keep your attention focused in the face of such aimlessness.
Some of the costumes are nice, like Ahmed Orabi’s fez. There are one or two gimmicks that could have been worthwhile, and it looks big-budget and glossy with a few exceptions (like the faltering use of CGI to animate the lions of Qasr al-Nil bridge for the last scene). But overall, it’s like a second-rate children’s movie plus smutty jokes, that are sometimes so thin that you cringe in embarrassment, or so offensive that you just feel aggrieved.
At one point, for example, King Tut is complaining about the sunflower seed shells littered on the floor of the museum. He points at the African tribe statue-characters and says, “How many times have I spoken to you about cleaning? We definitely should have had Filipinos, they’re much better at it.”
Third World War is overconfident and overlong. It’s as though it set out in a dutiful way to realize visually the banter produced by a group of bored male friends on a day when they spent too many hours in a row with each other.
A while ago I wrote an article about comedy which mentioned the journey of filmmakers Sheeko, Fahmy and Maged from independent homemade experimentation to just one step away from El-Sobky Productions. And now it’s happening. Just like all the other innocent movie stars who have previously fallen into Sobky’s spiderweb, there they go.
In my life I’ve witnessed two main cinematic movements, and both of them were comedic. The first was the rise of low-budget reality comedies pioneered in 1997 by Mohamed Hinaidy’s Ismailia Rayih Gai (Ismailia Coming and Going) with Mohamed Fouad just before he went on a fat-only diet. The second was in the mid-2000s with the uprising of Ahmed Helmy and Ahmed Mekky, when they adapted famous American comedies and introduced a taste for comedy that was more sophisticated, relatively speaking. With Alf Mabrouk (Congratulations, 2009) adapted from Groundhog Day, for example, or Teer Inta (You Fly, 2009) adapted from Bedazzled. That second wave of comedy was different from the one before, in that it wasn’t entirely made of puns and spoken jokes, and it was trying to be more about rich people living in shiny mansions.
When Sheeko, Fahmy and Maged made their first feature film, Waraqit Shafra (The Code, 2008), it was yet another new language. Inspired by the successful VHS project that had launched their careers (Rigal la Taarif al-Mostaheel, or Men Who Don’t Know the Impossible), they made a movie that was about a different world, in which humor came from a different angle, a slightly absurd, destructive and nihilistic one. It’s true that it lacked a story you could feel you needed to follow — even though it pretended it did — but a lot of people felt that a new generation and understanding of filmmaking was being born.
Third World War is full of mistakes. They start on the poster, which should not read “Third World War, story by Sheeko, Ahmed Fahmy and Hisham Maged.” It should say “Night in the Museum, watched by Sheeko, Ahmad Fahmy and Hisham Maged.” There’s another mistake: “Written by Mostafa Saqr and Mohamed Ezz,” instead of: “Typed out by Moustafa Saqr and Mohamed Ezz.”
Surely one cannot earn the title of writer just by having a good memory of Internet memes and Facebook humor? Is there not going to be any relationship between writing and imagination any more? As a viewer, it doesn’t feel right to see a joke of the type that your friends post on Facebook made into a boring five-minute dance scene that cost more money than your parents’ entire savings. It gives you the feeling that you can do that too. One day you will and it’ll be even worse.
World War Three knows that in Egypt everybody gets away with their crimes — not only that, but they make a lot of money out of them.