You can search high and low, making your “Around the World With Netflix” journey, and never have much luck disproving the premise of Albert Brooks’ political farce, “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.”
The odd not-that-amusing rom-com from Indonesia, attempts at sentimental humor from Turkey, this search goes on and on simply because comedies in Turkish, Persian, Arabic or what have you are rare. But every now and then, just as you’re ready to give up this unicorn hunt, a surprise pops up.
“Apple of My Eyes” is a goofy Egyptian kidnapping kids comedy with a hint of “Ransom of Red Chief” about it, until the grandmothers take over and something like “Going in Style” sets in.
The laughs come from the arch, loud, nagging and incessantly babbling characters — grandmothers, incompetent kidnappers, outraged parents and hapless police — and from what they say as they babble.
Other jokes come from cultural mores. Even “lowlife” kidnappers “respect the age” of their elders, even when those elders are obnoxious, noisy, self-righteous grannies demanding the release of their kids, and willing to haggle over the ransom “like this is a street market.”
The opening establishes the routines of a few characters — braying, bossy Aabla (Dalal Abdulaziz) bullies the son she talked into getting a divorce, but dotes on little Hassan, her grandson. She can’t bear to see him catch the bus to the exclusive Manchester International School the six year-old attends.
Hassan can’t bear the thought of being packed off to visit his other granny just as the classmate he crushes on, Farida, has her birthday party.
Kiki (Mervat Amin) is another grandmother, somewhat less interested in her daughter and grandchild. We catch her, dolled-up at the tail end of her latest all-night party with friends and menfolk. No, she’s not that interested in babysitting today.
The point becomes moot as the school’s bus is hijacked by an armed gang that apparently is aiming to branch out the family business. It’s the patriarch’s idea. And as they carelessly use their real names around the five privileged children, let them see their faces and take in their abandoned factory lair and even allow the kids to outfox them and escape long enough to describe where they are and the landmarks they passed getting there by phone, that patriarch is the last to figure out that he and his lads are in over their heads.
“Maybe we should’ve stuck with stealing cars,” old Radwan gripes, in Arabic with English subtitles.
The movie is cute enough when it’s just the enterprising moppets vs. clumsy but just scary enough kidnappers. It’s only when grandmothers Aalba, Kiki, Aida and others take over, and when they consult their elder, Mrs. Suhier (Enaam Salousa), “the Colonel’s widow,” that “Apple of My Eyes” takes off.
They’re skipping past the cops, figuring out the clues and riding around with very old, very deaf and very careless-driving Mrs. Suhier in “The Colonel’s” ancient Jeep they track down the children…and are promptly taken hostage themselves.
This Sarah Noah comedy is at its best when it’s most manic — entitled, well-heeled parents shouting at administrators, cops and each other, grandmothers nagging their kids and their grandkids’ kidnappers, and each other.
When the grandmothers take over the movie, and the kidnapping (their “negotiations” are a stitch) and the cooking during the kidnapping, “Apples” hits its stride and more or less maintains it, even though the energy in the picture flags quite a before the finale. Jokey James Bond and “Mission: Impossible: music underscores some moments of the caper.
And of all the ransom exchanges the movies have cooked up over the century of cinema, the one screenwriter George Azmy delivers here is the cleverest, or would be if they’d developed and milked that sequence of all the laughs it promises.
Still, blown chances aside and paced fast or stumbling into slow, “Apples” is never less than cute and often pretty funny.
If Netflix keeps this up as a streaming option, perhaps they’ll provide English language credits so I can identify more characters and the actors playing them by name.
Rating: TV-PG, mild peril, gunplay
Cast: Dalal Abdulaziz, Mervat Amin, Riham Abdel Ghafour, Ragaa Al-Gidawy, Enaam Salousa
Credits: Directed by Sarah Noah, scripted by George Azmy. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:31