According to English folklore, the original Merry Men helped define the legend of Robin Hood, accompanying the prince of thieves on his numerous exploits, each one usually followed up with acts of social benevolence as they sought to redistribute the common wealth.
There may be something off-putting and unaware of self about AY Makun- a capitalist profiteer who makes a thriving livelihood from pimping out the talents of his colleagues under his hugely profitable banner- reclaiming the core of the Robin Hood legend for yet another shiny but hollow commercial enterprise. But such is the way of the world, and in any case, no one comes to AY expecting genuine self-introspection.
In three box-office breaking chapters, AY has taken Atlanta, Jamaica and Sun City. As a potential new franchise opener, Merry Men: The Real Yoruba Demons may not have AY’s bumbling everyman, Akpors at its center, but it takes all of its clutter, bawdy humor and disregard for coherence from its noisy forebearers.
Amaju (AY), Ayo (Ramsey Nouah), Remi (Falz) and Naz (Jim Iyke) are a colorful posse of agbada wearing, lavish living, lady killing charmers. As the eye rolling title suggests, they are the real Yoruba demons, but resident in Abuja. The ones every mother warns her hopelessly infatuated daughters to stay away from but secretly wishes they would bring home as husbands. Of recent, the Yoruba demons have been enjoying a fresh lease on the culture, thanks to vainglorious Instagram videos and snazzy Snapchat filters.
Living fat off the largesse of wealthy parents, political connects and criminal targets, AY’s merry men are famous for being famous. Remi (Falz) is the IT savant, perpetually glued to his laptop but apart from him, it isn’t quite clear what the rest of the gang does for a living. Perhaps it is just as well as one could argue that the Abuja big boys whom Merry Men’s script is based off have similarly vague sources of income that can be challenging to trace. Falz may play Remi but his character is the same Falz stand in, one he’s played in New Money and the comic skits before that.
The other Merry Men characters suffer the same fate.
The actors are all cast to fill up pre-conceived notions. Ramsey Nouah is the lover boy, trying to make sense of his relationship with Damilola Adegbite’s Dera, a tangential member of the merry men. Jim Iyke is the lethal lothario who prefers his sex in threesomes. As for AY who also conceived the story, Merry Men continues his vain habit of living vicariously through his characters. AY casts himself (yet again) as the oversexed boy toy, this time living- and loving- at the mercy of a powerful politician, Dame Maduka (Ireti Doyle slumming it complete with unconvincing Igbo lines).
AY’s long running struggle with imagining himself as some form of low rent sex god may be a sign of insufficiency or it may be nothing at all but it resurfaces here. AY gifts himself a horrid sex scene and has a woman or two vouch for his sexual prowess via lewd sexual jokes that don’t even pretend to be original anymore. Thankfully he is self-aware enough to wrap this obsession in a comic coating so the audience can laugh if not at, then with him.
This failure of characterization goes skin deep as the film fails to delineate properly just what makes the merry men different from the regular rent seekers who throng the political capital.
Apart from their large appetites, the merry men have at their disposal, endless resources and are able to sidestep the arm of the law thanks to a mole in the financial crimes commission.
They happen upon a major contract being awarded to demolish Garki village, an Abuja urban slum settlement in order to replace it with a shopping complex and decide on nixing the deal. Nouah’s Ayo is handed a back story that involves conflict with his father- a wasted Richard Mofe-Damijo and a sentimental attachment to Garki village. None of it makes any sense, just like the rest of Merry Men, a baroque parade of clothes, bodies and cars. It would be sexy if it weren’t all so garish.
Directed by an aggressive Toka McBaror (Lotanna, Kada River) who bulldozes his way through scenes of high glamour and pure caricature, Merry Men appeals to the best and worst of genre cinema. On one hand, Abuja hasn’t looked this good on film in ages. On the other, the influences are obvious; the Fast and Furious films, the Oceans franchise and every other Hollywood actioner with babes and guns featuring prominently. If only Merry Men had the balls to commit to any one pure thing.
The pacing is off, plot isn’t coherent, starts and stops multiple times like a rickety automobile before sputtering to a jumbled end. For laughs, AY jacks every viral trend since 10 Days in Sun City, cementing his reputation as a reactive opportunist merely looking to chronicle and cash in on pop culture trends.
AY seems like a man who’s made his made his peace with that.
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.