Netflixable? An Egyptian take on “Terminator?” “Mousa”

Egyptian action auteur Peter Mimi is no stranger to Hollywood blockbusters. You don’t have read or watch interviews with him to have that confirmed. It’s right there on the screen.

The latest from the director of “No Surrender” is a robot-as-revenge thriller that takes from “The Terminator” and imitates, in ways both obvious and subtle, the story beats, action tropes and trendy vehicles popular in La La Land action cinema of the moment.

“Mousa” is about a meek, bullied engineering student named Yehia (Kareem Mahmoud Abdel Aziz) who can’t even summon the courage to stand up to the thugs who break in, beat and rob his engineer-turned-clockmaker father (screen veteran Salah Abdullah) and set fire to their house, killing his father.

But Yehia is clever enough to design and build a nearly-unstoppable metal man to carry out his dead father’s post-mortem wish, via a vision.

“One of us had to get burned so he could light the way for the other,” father counsels, in Arabic with English subtitles. “Avenge me!”

It doesn’t matter that Yehia was kicked out of engineering school by an intemperate, classist professor (Eyad Nassar) who didn’t like the kid showing him up. It’s not important that Yehia can’t make much in the way of eye contact, especially with the opposite sex. And fighting? He’s the Cairo version of the proverbial “98 pound weakling.”

But let him slip on the telepathic VR helmet he uses to control the robot he named after the stillborn older brother his parents lost, and thugs, child-trafficking organ thieves and terrorists had better watch out.

This story, framed within an interrogation that comes after an opening image stripped from the film’s action climax, loses track of logic, characters and the plot in the third act. It goes completely off the rails, train-crash pun intended.

No, we never really connect the hero to his crush (Sara El Shamy) or even his more badass soulmate (Asma Abul-Yazid) for reasons that seem more due to sloppy screenwriting than Muslim cultural mores. I rewatched the last third of the film repeatedly, trying to figure out how this character turned-up in that location, that robot got on a train or who the heck this or that figure is and how they become part of what is largely a loner’s revenge-on-the-world story.

The plotting may be clumsy, the pace too slow at the start and too disorganized at the end, and the morality simplistic in the extreme. But the acting isn’t bad.

The effects are spectacular and would pass muster in any Hollywood release. If “RRR” showed the world that Indian CGI was on a par with America’s best, “Mousa” is an impressive ad for farming out some of that work to Egypt.

And then there’s what a North American might get out of watching Egyptian sci-fi action via “Around the World with Netflix.”

Mimi pays homage to “The Terminator” in several ways, including cribbing the skeletal robot walking through fire. But it’s the silly Hollywood trends and tropes that tickled me.

What do I fixate on regularly in this space, movie fans? “Cars with character.” And what does rich girl Rieka (Abul-Yazid) show up with to transport this Mousa robot to places where he’s needed — fires, so that he can rescue kids, human trafficking warehouses, etc? It’s not a Chevy Nova. No. It’s a Pontiac Ventura. That’s the Pontiac version of the Nova.

What does the college professor, whose story sidetracks the film for a bit as he has an even darker side, drive? The same thing college professors have driven in generations of Hollywood films — a Volvo.

And what do the cops and villains tangle in and chase each other with? Jeeps, with the bad guys in the evergreen Jeep Cherokee (XJ), Hollywood’s hottest “vintage” on screen car of the moment. Even in Egypt, “there is only one Jeep.”

The contortions of “Mousa’s” third act make one fret that Mimi has visions of a “franchise” on his hands, ands maybe let that distract him from a half-decent movie that loses its way at the end.

Either way, I’m looking forward to what he comes up with next. It’s obvious where he’s getting his inspirations from, and hit or miss, I for one am totally down for seeing how genre pictures and action tropes look through an Egyptian lens.

Rating: TV-14, violence

Cast: Kareem Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, Eyad Nassar, Asma Abul-Yazid, Sara El Shamy and Salah Abdullah

Credits: Scripted and directed by Peter Mimi. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:45

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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