Since I started this blog, I've been getting a solid primer on the ranks of Malaysian film directors. Every locally-produced film I've watched (not including two indies) has been from a different director - Syamsul Yusof, Ahmad Idham, Madya Razak Mohaideen, Kabir Bhatia, M. Jamil, Azhari Zain, Afdlin Shauki and Majed Salleh. And most of them are, to put it delicately, talentless hacks. Hell, half of them made films that are so staggeringly inept, I can barely imagine how tak malu they must be. Only Bhatia and Afdlin have proved themselves to be decent filmmakers and storytellers, and it's a sad statement on our film industry that we've only got two of such.
Fortunately, Bernard Chauly makes it three.
Intan (Nur Fazura) and Bella (Maya Karin) are best friends with similar mercenary attitudes towards love and relationships - Bella is an unashamed gold-digger, and although Intan has a career as a TV news reporter, she's dating a rich married Datuk. Whilst on an ocean cruise holiday, both girls get their opportunities to pursue their goals: Bella sets her sights on wealthy widower Datuk Hisham (Eizlan Yusof) and enlists the aid of an infatuated Faqir (Redza Minhat). Meanwhile, Intan gets mixed up in the affairs of Datuk Zakaria (Dato' Rahim Razali) and his three wives (Khatijah Tan, Umie Aida, Sharifah Sofia) and children (Liyana Jasmay, Nas-T) - and when a murder occurs, she smells a story and tags along with hunky private investigator Ari (Aaron Aziz).
It's sad that they didn't get to film on an actual ocean liner - the unconvincing sets and occasional obvious green-screenery are the only things that mar a very polished production. The technical aspects - production design, art direction, even wardrobe and styling - boast an attention to detail that's pretty damn rare for a Malay movie, lemme tell ya. And the polish extends to the screenplay as well - writer Rafidah Abdullah displays a remarkably sure hand at characterization, one of the hardest things to write well. I was especially impressed with Bella's character arc and its climactic moment; the craft and care with which it was set up can rival any Hollywood script. Even the murder mystery subplot is surprisingly well done, with the requisite red herrings and a clever resolution.
But I gotta say, this is a movie I like better looking back than I did while watching it. Now, I concede that that may have been due to the annoying wanker who sat next to me, who not only had no qualms about talking in the cinema but also snuck in a Ramly burger (wei, busuk laa!) that he didn't even finish... ahem. Thing is, for a comedy, I just didn't laugh much. There was plenty of wit in the dialogue, and Chauly succeeded in coaxing some entertainingly over-the-top performances from his female cast, but there simply weren't any big laugh-out-loud moments. In fact, one running joke - Intan's frequent exclamations of "oh my Dior, oh my Gucci, oh my Prada" - actually got on my nerves.
And on that note, I'm seriously wondering if the two leads weren't miscast. This is a broad comedy, and Maya never quite seems comfortable with that tone. Fazura, on the other hand, throws herself into her role with gusto - and therein lies the problem. Fazura's Intan is supposed to be the more serious, career-minded one - but Fazura overacts like mad, and it's often fun but occasionally grating. On the other hand, Maya's Bella is the out-and-out pisau cukur - and Maya's performance is earnest, but frequently wooden. Intan is obviously something of a gold-digger herself, what with her affair with Datuk Salleh (a suitably slimy Radhi Khalid), but essentially she's out to prove that she has smarts behind the pretty face. And although Bella has hidden depths, her mata duitan antics are mostly played for laughs. Ya lar, I totally think they should've swapped roles. And Intan's oh-my-expensive-fashion-brandname expletives should've definitely gone to Bella instead.
The rest of the cast's performances are, frankly, somewhat hit and miss. The ladies all seem to be having tremendous fun out-bitching each other, which leaves the serious acting to the menfolk - well, most of them. Aaron Aziz fares best as the macho giler PI, but Redza and Eizlan are kinda dull. Dato' Rahim Razali is a grand old man of Malaysian screen and stage, but horny old bastard doesn't seem to be a role he can pull off convincingly. There are cameos galore, and the funniest are the ones by Yasmin Yusuff, Elaine Pedley and madame screenwriter herself - but there's also a strangely unfunny one by Afdlin Shauki.
So Rafidah's script earns ten out of ten points for dramatic substance, but minus a few for relying too much on broad acting for the comedy - which, from what I've seen, is definitely a thing with local movies. But this one is heaps better than most, and not just because of the writing. It's crafted with a level of professionalism and competence that are shockingly lacking in far too many made-in-Malaysia movies I've seen this year; the blockheads who made those oughta hang their heads in shame. Syabas Mr. Chauly, you totally pwn those noobs.
NEXT REVIEW: 2012