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Cairo Time -- Film Review

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SAN FRANCISCO -- A married woman alone in an exotic country encounters a handsome, unattached acquaintance; sparks fly. This is the slender premise of "Cairo Time," a particularly zipless entry into the love-on-foreign-soil genre. The set-up could signal trouble ahead and unexpected passion but, aside from the sweltering Egyptian climate, little heat or excitement is generated by the film or its attractive stars.

With mostly friendly local residents, no hints of terrorism and hardly an ounce of anti-American sentiment to tarnish the wholesome image, plus a showcase for the Pyramids of Giza, the Nile and the ancient city, this is a movie the Cairo tourist bureau could love. Audiences, though, won't be as enthusiastic. Despite the presence of the always watchable Patricia Clarkson, a fine character actress and a favorite of the art-house crowd, "Cairo" is headed for a now-you-see-it, now-you-don't stint in theaters when it's released in June, followed by a second life on cable and DVD.

Though Clarkson shines in whatever part she plays, no matter how small, and is as good as she can be given the material, she doesn't have much to work with here and downshifts to play the unduly restrained, fortysomething Juliette, who arrives in Cairo to visit her husband, Mark (Tom McCamus), a U.N. official, whose demanding job makes him a scarce commodity. Romantic possibility enters when Mark is unavoidably detained -- wouldn't you know it? -- and dispatches his former security officer, the regal Tareq (a dashing Alexander Siddig) to meet Juliette at the airport and escort her around the city.

Clumsily directed by Canadian filmmaker, Ruba Nadda, who's also responsible for the vapid script, "Cairo" contrives to bring the characters together but, beyond the longing looks and obvious culture clash, there's no urgency or onscreen alchemy between these appealing actors.

Siddig has the physical attributes of a leading man, but the old-school Tareq, a charming confirmed bachelor with courtly manners, entrenched attitudes toward women and heartbreak in his past, is a type. And, while we're told and expected to believe that, back home, Juliette is a workaholic magazine editor, she comes across like a passive housewife with unrequited yearnings and untapped potential (a perception reinforced by Brenda Boer's unflattering costumes), instead of a hard-charging career woman. She extends her stay, presumably to wait for her husband to show up or to consummate the flirtation, which begs the question: What kind of magazine job could this be, and where does one apply?

Rather than construct an emotionally credible or sexually combustible love affair, Nadda coordinates a series of incidents, banking on the inspiring backdrops to carry the drama. Yes, they're beautiful, but they don't suffice, though bewitching sequences shot in the White Desert as the day wanes, and the aforementioned pyramids at sunset, are spectacular. Luc Montpellier's vibrant imagery of Cairo and its outskirts is far more entrancing than the romance at the center of the story, and it sure beats the price of a plane ticket.
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Venue: San Francisco International Film Festival (IFC Films)
Production company: Foundry Films, Samson Films, Astral Media
Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Alexander Siddig, Elena Anaya, Amina Annabi, Tom McCamus
Director: Ruba Nadda
Screenwriter: Ruba Nadda
Executive producers: Charles Pugliese, Christine Vachon
Producer: Daniel Iron, David Collins
Director of photography: Luc Montpellier
Production designer: Tamara Conboy
Music: Niall Byrne
Costume designer: Brenda Boer
Editor: Teresa Hannigan
No rating, 89 minutes