If you’ve been paying attention, you will have noticed that neither Jessica Alba or Zac Efron are very good at hiding their disdain for Hollywood. It has been a decade since Alba has acted in anything approaching a high-profile role, preferring instead to concentrate on her consumer goods company. Efron, meanwhile, made a Netflix documentary last year in which he repeatedly slated Hollywood and its practices.
However, despite this they are both attractive, well-known actors. And this means, if they’re tired of Hollywood, plenty of other outlets are available to them. And by “plenty of other outlets”, I mean “the Dubai tourist board”’.
Quietly, without anyone quite noticing, Efron and Alba have made a series of miniature movies to promote Dubai. The fifth dropped yesterday, and is quite frankly a doozy. In the 96-second-long Dubai: A Riveting Mystery , Alba plays a visiting professor concluding a spellbinding lecture about whatever she happens to be a professor of. Then Efron cuts in and whisks her off on an adventure that largely consists of an old man pointing at things. Some heavies turn up. There is a car chase. Efron reveals that, as a professional archaeologist, he isn’t used to such adventure. Some more heavies turn up. Some more heavies turn up. Efron drives a car in reverse. The end.
And if you loved that, there are plenty more where that came from. Dubai: A Captivating Saga from a month ago, saw Alba ditch her romantic interest Efron in order to ride a camel into the middle of the desert and receive some vaguely Live Laugh Love-esque advice from an old tribeswoman. Dubai: A Brand New You is a buddy comedy where Efron is visited by himself from the future, and then they go skydiving. Dubai: A Romance to Remember is a frighteningly accurate Wes Anderson homage. Dubai: A Five-Star Mission is a spy caper about an unhappily married couple who go skydiving.
Now, there are plenty of things to criticise about these videos. Not only are Efron and Alba ditching their morals to shill, but they’re shilling for a place that treats its foreign labourers in a subhuman manner, that has made homosexuality illegal and bans public affection, and has a long history of forced disappearances and torture, even within the ruler’s own family. Nobody in their right mind should want to be the public face of Dubai, and in this respect these videos only serve to cast Efron and Alba in a bad light.
However, and this really pains me to admit, the videos are also brilliant. They’re expensive and well-made, directed by Cruella’s Craig Gillespie, and both stars are clearly having the time of their lives. Without exaggeration, they might be the best thing that Efron has ever done. He absolutely throws himself into every single aspect of them. He fights convincingly. In A Brand New You he plays dishevelled present–him and suave future–him with equal elan. You can’t help but hope that, whether by accident or design, Wes Anderson sees A Romance to Remember and casts Efron in his next film. He’s uncannily good.
Failing that, I’d like Jessica Alba and Zac Efron to continue making fake Dubai movies for the rest of their lives. There are so many more genres to choose from. Sci-fi. Found footage horror. Erotic thriller. A musical. A brutal war film. A courtroom drama. A biopic of Princess Latifa. Honestly, I’d happily watch them all.