Film review: For ailing Nollywood, ‘Doctor Bello’ isn’t the cure
by Wilfred Okiche
Nollywood is dead!
Popular actor and sometime movie star Emeka Ike declared ominously in a recent interview. He highlighted developments like the death of such production houses as Kas Vid, Bayowa films and Remmy Jes, the recent inability of films to shift copies in record numbers and the present dominance of the behemoth that is Africa Magic.
[READ: ‘“Nollywood is dead,” declares Emeka Ike, the ‘Ezekwesili of Anambra State’’ HERE]
Nollywood isn’t dead.
Not to Mr. Ike’s colleagues who have successfully made the transition from video/DVD favorites to box office darlings. And certainly not to Mr. President who must have seen something viable when he announced a $200milliion loan fund in 2010 to help finance future film projects. 2 years later, the first beneficiary of the fund, Tony Abulu, a Nigerian born film maker based in the United States arrives with his finished product, a story of love and loss – and all the mystical stuff in between titled ‘Doctor Bello’.
Sporting an international cast that combines the hottest of Nollywood talent (Genevieve Nnaji, Stephanie Okereke Linus) with the not-quite-hot of Hollywood (Isaiah Washington, Vivica A. Fox), and shot in location in Nigeria and New York, ‘Dr Bello’ boasts a gripping enough premise.
A brilliant oncologist still reeling from the loss of his 10-year old daughter immerses himself in his work, particularly in the poor prognostic case of a bubbly 7-year old boy with a brain tumor. Of course it helps that the boy’s parents are major contributors to the hospital’s cancer research fund. He watches helplessly as the boy quietly slips away until a Nigerian nurse working in the hospital convinces him to seek help from Dr. Bello, an uncertified Nigerian practitioner living in the Brooklyn underground.
So far so good.
Mr. Abulu while not an exceptionally skillful film maker (his last film was ‘Crazy like a fox’) has spent a lot of time in the New York metropolis and so knows his city well. His direction especially in the movie’s first half is confident as he switches briskly from an ultra-modern medical centre to a Nigerian restaurant in the heart of the city. He infuses the picture with shots of the city’s skyline that recall Carrie Bradshaw and the opening sequence of ‘Sex and the city’.
American actor Isaiah Washington who hasn’t been seen in anything of note since ‘Greys Anatomy’ makes a suitable leading man and carries the picture, convincingly portraying a trained professional who has to make what is perhaps the most difficult call, to trust an alternative source of healing solely on the shock of faith. Vivica Fox has her dramatic moment as his grieving wife who turns to the bottle for comfort while Ebbe Bassey brings an appealing compassion to her role as the Nigerian nurse who cares for the little boy. The only source of dissatisfaction here is Haitian born actor Jimmy Jean-Louis who in the title role speaks in an accent that is nowhere near Nigerian.
As the story moves along, the set and scenes switch to the bustling city of Lagos and the rocky hills of Abeokuta and the stars change along with the scenery. Ms. Fox gives way for Genevieve Nnaji who plays the hero’s assistant, tour guide and maybe lover in a role that does not challenge her much. Stephanie Okereke has a scene-stealing moment as a vibrant Yoruba woman and Nollywood vets like Rachel Oniga, Justus Esiri, and Olumide Bakare show up in engaging cameos. While it is a pleasure seeing our talented performers on such a major platform, someone should have warned Mr Abulu of their creeping tendency to over act on occasion. The scenes shot in Lagos could have done with some more attention as the director showed no control over the crowd scenes where obvious on-lookers were captured on film.
The music, performed by WoleAlade is a suitable back drop to the story as familiar folk tunes like ‘Oluronbi’ can be recognized. This propels the story to the climax where sadly the whole film falls apart in more ways than one. The end is terribly wishy-washy, the visual effects are dismal and the quest for a happy ending becomes the screenplay’s greatest undoing. It is like the writer ran out of steam and resorts to the typical film ending just to keep things moving along and the director and his actors just play along non-commitedly.
While ‘Doctor Bello’ isn’t quite the game changer it is touted to be, bad ending aside, it is a decent effort that shows that the only thing happening in the industry is change and practitioners should do well to adapt. The film stimulates the appetite for something more and leaves us wondering at the kind of stories that would emerge if film makers like Kunle Afolayan and Chineze Anyaene are given access to the same fund.
Who says Nollywood is dead?