The setting is unfamiliar, the language spoken is Arabic, the violence unexpected and the plot — “Who is framing me for the famous man they had shot in my rideshare?” well-worn.
The slick, confusing and yet somehow familiar Egyptian thriller “30. March” forces the Western viewer to engage it in one’s own film comfort zone — genre. It’s a “clear my name” or “Could I really have done this?” thriller with a disorienting lack of sure-footing.
Is the “hero” really a “villain?” What on Earth could he do for a living that allowed him to become reclusive, with a nice apartment, an ex and a child, a shrink, a hot-to-trot neighbor warm for his form and a lawyer-protector pal?
Because this rideshare thing he does at night (driving while wearing sunglasses) wouldn’t cover his expenses. But that’s how the well-known virologist/TV pundit (!?) Naeyr happens to be in Ali’s back seat when the motorcycle assassins ride up and pop him.
Ali (Hameed Al Madani) voice-over narrates “my life as a dream,” giving us and his distracted psychotherapist (Injy Al Moqaddem) a cursory overview of his problems (“You need to go back into rehab.”) up to the point where he has to go on the lam.
Because that murdered guy in his back seat? He was famous. Ali’s a little too experienced at dumping the body to be wholly innocent. And he’s a bit too hazy on his command of reality to be sure he didn’t do it.
Oh, and that body? It won’t stay “dumped.” It turns up in his apartment after Ali’s slept the previous night off. Between that and the murder weapon, the fact that the cops were tipped and he’s immediately arrested, only to violently make his getaway from a hospital, suggests Ali was an easy patsy to pin this on, and is known as a man of violence.
That doesn’t keep sexy neighbor Hanan (Dina El Sherbiny) from lustily, eagerly and ditzily trying to help him, or lawyer-friend Abel (Hamad Almutaani) from hiding him.
As Ali acquires shiny pistols, digs for clues and meets shadier and shadier figures, Ali wonders just how he got mixed up in something so big and so dangerous with so very many people out to get him.
There’s a slick, soapy sheen to director Ahmed Khaled’s film of this not-quite-exhausting script. Mysteries commonly use the voice-over interior monologue crutch, but rarely as cryptic-to-the-point-of-obtusely as screenwriter Hameed Al Madani does.
“We ran to our fates” to “an enemy I didn’t know” may be poetic. But it doesn’t advance the plot or give the viewer nearly enough to go on just to keep up.
The conventions of the genre may be familiar — tracking the dead man’s contacts, rebuilding the hero’s last night via cell phone clues, impromptu interrogations and a torn up ID card. But the directions taken and tips picked-up are confusing.
As is Ali himself. Introspective, brooding, smart and seeing a psychotherapist, he hurts people, holds others hostage (a little girl at knifepoint) and has no compunction about resorting to threats and violence. He seems pitiless.
Who is this guy, a better-looking Tony Soprano?
“30. March” — yes, the date has a significance to the plot — no doubt makes more sense to Egyptian audiences and Arabic speakers (subtitles often miss nuances). I found myself lost early on, only occasionally getting firm footing and only then on genre conventions that are sometimes clumsily used, misused or abused here.
This “Around the World with Netflix” outing doesn’t even give us a firm enough sense of place to ground us with the allure of the exotic. If it weren’t for the provocatively dressed women and soap operatic sexiness of it all, you’d never guess this plainly-Arab-world-set mystery was taking place in Egypt.
It could take place anywhere the drinks are strong, the women beautiful, the guns easily acquired and the shrinks sit at their desk and roll-their-own while you’re pouring your deepest insecurities out to them at the psychiatrist’s going rate.
Rating: TV-MA, violence
Hameed Al Madani, Dina El Sherbiny, Hamad Almutaani, Nada Musa, Asma Abul-Yaziz
Credits: Directed by Ahmed Khaled, scripted by Hameed Al Madani. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:39