When Egyptian pop star and actor Tamer Hosny was promoting his latest feature, Tisbah Ala Kheir (Good Night), he promised a film that would represent a creative peak for the Arabic film industry. This isn't quite it.
The drama, which repeatedly leaps from the present to the subconscious, is an amalgam of Hollywood winners like Inception and Memento and makes solid use of its lead star.
Hosny plays Hossam Al Khedawi, a successful entrepreneur who becomes depressed by the news that his wife (Nour) cannot bear children.
Refusing to consider divorce, Al Khedawi instead limps along in life and goes on to make increasingly errant business decisions.
Relief is provided in the form of wily software developer Saja (Mae Amar), who gives Al Khedawi a test-drive of a programme that allows him to plunge into a carefully curated alternate universe.
Al Khedawi is immediately hooked, and you cannot blame him. The other-worldly experiences are similar to those Choose Your Own Adventure books, with a fail-safe mechanism when things get too hairy.
In one "trip" he becomes a Jack Sparrow-like character, stranded on a life raft with pirates on his tail, while in another he is plunged into the seedy nightclubs of Cairo. Both set pieces are executed well, with plenty of rapid-fire zingers and old fashioned comedic fight scenes, recalling The Three Stooges for inspiration.
The second half of Tisbah Ala Kheir takes an ambitious turn, as Al Khedawi chooses to live most of his days in a dream-like state, unburdened by responsibilities. The film rises to the challenge, without losing its tone.
Despite a few jarring violent scenes, director Mohammed Samy – who worked with Hosny on his previous two films, comedies Ahwak and Omar Wa Salma – does a fine job of keeping the film light and surprisingly soulful.
Hosny, who winds up playing several characters, could have used the various dream scenarios to stretch himself a little further. Instead, he plays it safe but he injects enough dry humour to keep us engaged.
And while the film may not reach its lofty ambitions, Tisbah Ala Kheir is a charming tale that is bound to generate conversation.
Tisbah Ala Kheir is in cinemas now