Comedies tap into pop star talent

'Mido-Problems,' 'Thailand' laugh all the way to the bank

CAIRO – Egyptian cinema is getting some comic relief.

Laffers are sparking biz at the the local box office and even spawning sequels.

This year’s hit “Mido-Problems” grossed more than $2 million, while the sequel to “Thieves in KG2,” entitled “Thieves in Thailand,” made $1.1 million.

Romantic comedy “How Girls Fall in Love With You?,” which featured a cast of newcomers, pulled in $800,000.

The country’s all-time top-grossing film, “Al-Lemby,” featured a character reminiscent of the guys in “Dumb & Dumber.” Pic took in $5 million and sparked a minor controversy, with the censorship board initially objecting to the portrayal of an unemployed dumb Egyptian slacker, played by new star Mohamed Saad.

However, auds loved the actor’s slapstick antics and a sequel is coming out this July.

Another comedy, “Hamam in Amsterdam,” recently took over the No. 2 slot on the all-time box office list, grossing more than $4.5 million.

“It is cheap to make a comedy with new actors, a new director and a stupid story,” said veteran director Nader Galal, who made the first comedy breakthrough with pint-sized actor Mohamed Heneidy in “An Upper Egyptian at American University.” Its sequel employed the same slapstick format.

Heneidy portrays an out-of-towner who comes to Cairo for the first time and faces difficulties with city life. His soon-to-be-released “A Soldier in the Camp” will follow the same comic plot.

“Audiences don’t want social dramas that were popular in the 1980s. They want escapist fare,” Galal says.

“More young directors are creating comedies for a new generation,” said Nasr Films producer-distributor Mohammed Hassan Ramzy, who churns out and distribs many of the hit comedies.

“More audiences are going to multiplexes and want good sound and film quality. They go to forget about the problems of the Middle East and just be entertained.”

As in many other countries, these local laffers rarely play outside their home territory, but “Al-Lemby” producers have dubbed their hit film into English and will see if the laughs can travel.

The producers said they hope to appeal directly through small distribs abroad to Arab immigrants in the West.

“Egyptian films have a small market worldwide and don’t appeal except in some Arab countries like Lebanon or the United Arab Emirates,” says one local distrib.

As for the actors involved, this latest batch of comedies is making movie stars out of Arab pop singers such as Amer Moneeb and Shereen as well as quirky actors like Tamer Samir.

“We don’t need to look like movie stars but rather like what people can relate to — the fat, the short or the funny-looking,” Samir says. “My last comedy, ‘Call Mama,’ and the upcoming ‘When the Ball Hits the Sweet Spot’ all are about regular guys in silly situations.”

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