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As far as sequels go, the French comedy The Brand New Adventures of Aladdin (Alad’2), which is a follow-up to the 2015 box-office smash The New Adventures of Aladdin, didn’t have all that much to live up to. In fact, it had so little to live up to that the producers could have entrusted their purported $22 million budget to a class of preschoolers and probably come up with something better than the first movie.
So the good news, at least, is that this brand-new Aladdin is a very slight improvement on its predecessor. Sure, it’s got the same infantile brand of humor, though this time around the filmmakers decided to cut out most (if not all) of the penis jokes and sexist innuendo. And it still has its titular hero played by comedian Kev Adams (real name Kevin Smadja), whose unfathomable rise to the top of the French star system is something that perhaps only Roland Barthes could explain, were he still living.
And yet, director Lionel Steketee does a few things to make Alad’2 (as the film is called in text-message French) vaguely watchable. Or more like, watchable in the sense that if you were on one of those airplanes where they only show movies on an overhead screen, and this was playing, well, then, maybe you’d watch it without sound.
Actually, a plane ride is somewhat amusingly used as the framing device for this continuation of the Pathe franchise, which was once again penned by Daive Cohen (whose credit seems to have been contractually blown up on all the film’s advertising to nearly equal the size of the director and cast).
Set between a bumpy flight that has twentysomething slacker Sam (Adams) racing to Morocco to stop the marriage of his paramour, Sofia (Vanessa Guide), to big spender Marco (Jamel Debbouze), and a picture-book Baghdad where Aladdin (Adams) tries to thwart the wedding of Princess Shalia (Guide) and the evil Shah Zaman (Debbouze), the movie gets minimal mileage by jumping back and forth from the imaginary to the real, although it never quite does it enough.
Most of the story unfortunately takes place in the Arabian Nights fairyland of the first movie, with Adams leaping around the Orientalist sets in XXL harem pants and a pecs-exposing vest, when he’s wearing a shirt at all. The 27-year-old actor has indeed bulked up as of late — there’s a “coach sportif” assigned to him in the closing credits — possibly because he’s been trying to break through in America, getting his first big Hollywood gig this year with a walk-on role in The Spy Who Dumped Me.
When the film begins, Aladdin is resting on his laurels as Baghdad’s savior, but he’s suddenly ousted from the kingdom when Shah Zaman rolls in with his army of thugs and offers to basically buy Princess Shalia out. The Shah is a totally ridiculous, if ruthless, black-clad leader of a torture-practicing dictatorship that becomes the brunt of several juvenile and rather uncomfortable jokes, as if the Steketee and Cohen were trying to make fun of ISIS in a way that could pass muster on Nick at Night.
Debbouze (Amelie, Days of Glory), who’s a vet of both stand-up and the big screen, brings a certain level of joviality to the proceedings, even if he’s also way over-the-top in nearly every scene. But while his quick wit makes a few of the gags come off all right, most of the others — including an array of pop-culture references and cameos, with one featuring Gerard Depardieu as Christopher Columbus (as if anyone in Adams’ 14-and-under fan base will actually get a reference to Ridley Scott’s 1492) — sink into the sand and remain buried there. Returning to play Aladdin’s shaggy and incompetent genie, the otherwise talented Eric Judor (Platane) is too goofy for his own good.
But the main issue here, which is the same issue with all of Adams’ filmography (a dozen features and counting), is that the actor simply isn’t funny. He’s perhaps likeable in a marionette-ish sort of way, with his vigorously gelled-up hair — which seems to be both his trademark and raison d’etre — helping foster that appeal, especially among the French youth. He can also sing and dance, or at least he attempts to during Alad’2’s extended closing sequence, where he performs an R&B track with Franco-Israeli pop star Tal.
Yet why and how his movies — none of which are good, although 2014’s Fiston is passable — have collectively grossed more than $100 million at home remains something of a mystery, especially in a country like France where good taste seems to have been written into the Code civil. Based on opening numbers, it looks like The Brand New Adventures of Aladdin will also be a sizeable hit, although perhaps not on the level of the first film. Still, it proves that Adams improbably remains one of French cinema’s most bankable commodities, his movies costing more and bringing in more than nearly any other living actor. Whoever his genie is, he should keep rubbing that lamp.
Production companies: 74 Films, Pathe, M6 Films, My Family
Cast: Kev Adams, Jamel Debbouze, Vanessa Guide, Eric Judor, Ramzy Bedia, Wahid Bouzidi
Director: Lionel Steketee
Screenwriter: Daive Cohen
Producer: Daniel Tordjman
Director of photography: Stephane Le Parc
Production designer: Maamar Ech-Cheikh
Editor: Frederique Olszak-Olszewksi
Composers: Michael Tordjman, Maxime Desprez
Sales: Pathe International
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