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Shouf shouf Habibi!

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 10/19/04 07:51:51

"When Dutch Moroccans start to act more American than Americans, it's over."
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2004 VANCOUVER FILM FESTIVAL: It's quite alarming, really, to see American-style goofball caper comedies being made by Moroccans in the Netherlands. It's even more alarming to see said Moroccans acting more like kids from the Jersey suburbs than themselves. But that's the world today - we're all becoming American, it seems, whether we like it or not. But behind the talk of J-Lo and people calling their friends 'homies', there at least still lies a small part of what makes each different ethnic group so unique, even if that small part is largely ridiculed and used for nothing more than comedic effect. In Shouf, Shouf Habibi!, three Moroccan-born Dutch kids team with one local white boy to concot a bank robbery that will see them all driving BMW's and cavorting with bubble-butt'ed American actresses... as long as they don't get sidetracked by their tradition-valuing, old country-obsessed parents.

Ab (Mimoun Oaissa), or Abdullah as he's know by those that raised him, is adrift. He can't hold a job, he can't hold a girl, and his friends are all in similar straits as he. Not that they're poverty-stricken - far from it, in fact. The safety net of their parents means they drive a nice car, have nice clothes, can natter into cellphones all day and lack any sort of real drive to do anything with their lives. Ab's sister isn't so aimless - she wants to be a fashion designer, and is pretty darn good at it into the bargain, but her parents see much more value in getting her married off to the wealthiest suitor they can find for her. Ab's older brother, on the other hand, has bought into the system, works as a cop, has he 'arranged' wife, and wishes he could do something different.

And yes, there's the wacky mom and pop at home who are so convinced the old wayts are best that they leave the My Big Fat Greek Wedding parents looking positively new age.

So what's an aimless child of migrants to do in a white man's world? Well, there are options. One idea tossed about is that they could move to America and become 'Arab' actors. After all, since 9/11, surely there will be a need for such people in Hollywood... But the plan that takes precedence is much more imediate, and much more fraught with danger. The group will rob a local bank, keep the money hidden for a year, and then live the high life. Or will they?

The ethnicity-based family comedy is nothing new. Since the Big Fat Greek smash of two years ago we've been fairly well deluged with attempts at catching the same fire in a different bottle, none of which have made a whimper at the box office. Shouf, Shouf Habibi! is not about to make that situation change any time soon - it's simply too small and too regional to pull off that stunt, but it is a film that scored a number of minor victories.

First of all, it is genuinely funny through most of the running time. Though the story wanders and frequently ends up strangling itself with turns and double-backs, it is at the very least a noble effort. The performances, most notably from Oiassa in the main role, are consistently great, as these cocky kids with nothing to show for their existence go to great lengths to out brag one another, talking crap, crap and more crap in a vain effort to seem important. The key here is that, beyond the brash talk and goofball humor, there are genuine characters within that pull off the dramatic with aplomb.

A very American movie experience, despite where it was set and who it involves, in the end, Shouf, Shoulf Habibi! just doesn't have the gas it needs to sustain the early laughs into 90 minutes, but it's a valiant effort and deserves to be seen.

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