This Eid season there are three films only, fewer films screening than almost any other Eid season except for that of 2020. That year Covid kept movie theatres shut. Films like Saheb Al-Maqam (The Shrine Owner) – written by Ibrahim Eissa, directed by Gamal Al-Adl and starring Asser Yassin, Amina Khalil and Bayoumi Fouad – premiered online through MBC’s Shahid VIP platform.
The three films are: Wahed Tani (Another One), directed by Mohamed Shakir Khodier and featuring Ahmed Helmy, Rouby, Ahmed Malek and Amr Abdel-Geleil; Zombie, directed by Amr Salah and featuring Ali Rabie, Dina Mohsen, Hamdi Al-Merghany and Hagar Ahmed; and Al-Ankabout (The Spider), directed by Ahmed Nader Galal, which had been postponed since its completion back in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Starring Ahmed Al-Saqqa and Mona Zaki, 15 years after their last appearance together in Taymour wi Shafika (Taymour and Shafika, 2007), the film has the two stars resume their famous action-romance duet act. An action thriller about a drug-lord family named Gobran, it opens with the death of the head of the family and the return of his son Adam (Dhafer L’Abidine) and his wife (Youssra Al-Louzi) from abroad to direct the business.
But the first operation Adam directs is unsuccessful and all of the men involved in it are killed except the one who is left alive to deliver a message to Adam from the Spider (Ahmed Al-Saqqa), a mysterious figure with a spider tattoo on his neck who destroys the deal for no clear reason. The whole family gathers then, with actors Zaki Fateen Abdel-Wahab, Mohamed Mamdouh, Reem Mustafa, Mohamed Lotfi and Ahmed Fouad Selim making their appearance, to discuss the loss they have sustained and how to handle the prospect of the Spider intercepting their next deal.
Mohamed Nayer’s screenplay fails to explain anything through the first half of the film, but even when the story takes shape in the second half it turns out to be extremely naive and two-dimensional. Failing to respect the viewer’s intelligence, the screenplay turns out to be an excuse for chases and fights that might as well be plotless. There is an extended philosophical explanation of how a spider catches its prey, but there is no sense in which it translates into a coherent storyline. Despite technically brilliant action sequences, there is no characterisation or narrative, and the viewer cannot relate to the reasons behind all the sound and the fury. At 130 minutes, for what it has to offer in the way of a story, the film is far too long.
The Spider meets Laila (Mona Zaki), a tour guide with a Chinese group headed to Luxor, on the train. Before long she has been dragged into his fight with Gobrans and makes it his business to protect her. The Spider notices he is being followed, and he fights an endless group of men on board. Another fight takes place at Laila’s apartment, destroying it completely. The Spider also rescues her while she retrieves her bag from the hotel where the Chinese tourists are staying, and the gang members fall out of the balcony into the hotel pool while the tourists applaud.
Eventually the Spider takes Laila to his home, a wrecked ship on some shore – it is not clear whether this is the sea or a lake – where he has made his home. It turns out the man’s mother was a drug addict and that is why he has taken it upon himself to interrupt the work of drug lords. There is some relief while he trains Laila, a PUBG addict, to use a weapon. The warmth and humour of these scenes recall Al-Saqqa and Zaki’s brilliant, harmonious collaborations on such films as Africano (2001) and Mafia (2002), both directed by Amr Arafa and Aan Al-Ishq wal Hawa (Of Love and Passion, 2006), directed by Kamla Abu Zikry. But neither Zaki nor Al-Saqqa give a very good performance despite their palpable attempt to animate the characters.
The final disappointment of the screenplay is the twist. When one of the family members (Reem Mustafa) turns out to be leaking information to the Spider, we find out that Adam is actually his brother.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.