Film review: Alter Ego is a convoluted product of star baiting and calculated marketing

by Wilfred Okiche

Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde hasn’t made a movie in three years.

Omotola is back, with a bang too.

In an early scene of Alter Ego, her comeback vehicle, Ms Jalade-Ekeinde introduces her character’s wild side. She is in a car, stuck in one of Lagos’ legendary traffic jams. A mood comes over her and she instructs her driver to turn off the ignition, slide to the back seat, and she straddles him.

The camera cuts immediately Jalade-Ekeinde does this but the shot that director Inwang replaces it with tells its own story. From an aerial view, cars slide by Igwe’s stalled black jeep as the two occupants get down and dirty. We want to see more, but that is all she is prepared to give.

What a tease.

Alter Ego is a long series of frustrating episodes such as this. There is more tell than show. Aside from a male character’s generous shot of his gorgeous behind, director Moses Inwang almost always fades to black just when things are about to get heated up in the sack. For a film that teased tons of sexually daring stuff during its promotional run, Alter Ego never quite summons the courage to deliver the goods.

Sure there is a much talked about scene of Jalade-Ekeinde screaming ‘’harder’’ while a male stud (Bobby Obodo) works up a sweat from behind but the scene is laughably kitsch and as a result, more comical than steamy. There are a couple of scenes recorded in the sheets, but Alter Ego is ultimately as safe as they come.

Omotola Jalade Ekeinde plays Ada Igwe, a high profile lawyer (think budget Annalise Keating, but slightly less convincing) who runs a thriving law firm that sub-specializes in securing justice for child victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

These victims are naturally, almost always female, and are most definitely shamed into silence. By the perpetrators sure, and by their loved ones, not to mention larger society. Thankfully, crusading Ada Igwe is here to the rescue. She will go the extra mile to defend her clients and make some effort to rehabilitate them when necessary, especially when she catches a glimpse of herself in them.

But Ada Igwe has a secret life, one that is potentially more interesting than any of her bleeding heart intentions. And one that the movie flaunts sensationally in its first half, giving fresh agency to the Nigerian female as portrayed on the big screen, then turns around in the second half, to punish her unfairly for.

Ms Igwe has this habit of picking up hot bodied men from wherever she can find them,- her domestic staff, casual workers, random strays,- and having wild, explosive sex with them. This sex is mostly implied though and not at all as risqué as the film’s advertising blitz promised. The actors do some fully clothed daring (for these parts at least) simulations, but nothing really that pushes the envelope.

In perhaps the film’s most progressive plot element, Ada Igwe pays off her paramours – handsomely too – once she is done with them. And she does get bored easily.

But all of the daring, and the wild thoughts cannot conceal the problems with the Ada Igwe character. Omotola Jalade Ekeinde puts a lot into it and Alter Ego is indeed better, and more watchable because of her, but even she cannot cover the supersize deficiencies with story and characterization.

Ada Igwe is essentially a walking cliché.

She waltzes into rooms in power suits, Louboutin heels, talking tough and deploying unconventional, ethically unclear means to get what she wants. She also has a long buried history that may or may not explain her righteous drive as well as her voracious sexual appetite. Think a heroine from a bad Sidney Sheldon novel taken too seriously.

That history, when it arrives, about midway into the film is far from surprising. It is also terribly unimaginative and the scripting which both Inwang and Jalade-Ekeinde contribute to merely helps to reinforce a certain problematic narrative. That a sexually liberated woman is merely an abused one and such a woman has a sickness to be cured.

The film is a star vehicle for Jalade-Ekeinde who hasn’t been in a feature length leading role since 2014’s Blood in the Lagoon. She remains a visual delight and brings to the role a sizzling glow which only genuine movie stars can manage.

Director Inwang zips from one inciting incident to the other and manages to juggle them all credibly, choosing to close out with the story arc involving Wole Ojo’s wealthy philanthropist, Timothy Ighodaro. This decision nearly upends the film as the final court battle loses the plot by inexplicably putting Ada Igwe’s private life on trial, in the stead of an alleged rapist and child trafficker. Never mind that Ms Igwe has done exactly nothing that is illegal and non-consensual.

Alter Ego for a few, terribly long minutes, goes off the mark and embarks on a senseless goose chase that deigns to suggest that the sexually active woman is a menace to society, one whose sins should be equated with violent sexual abuse.

The film never really recovers from this error as Inwang makes another mistake,- at this point, Alter Ego has become a reel of mistakes,- by missing out the true end of his film and letting things go on for another unnecessary twenty minutes as he struggles to find closure for his heroine. The campy thrill that has worked so well previously quickly becomes overkill and even his star cannot quite hold things together anymore.

Alter Ego is ultimately a convoluted product of star baiting and calculated marketing. It should do good business at the box office.

Omotola is back alright. We just wish she were better too.

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