Film Review: Excess Luggage has its moments, overstays its welcome

by Wilfred Okiche

 

The film business is such that it welcomes anyone with cash and determination to spare.

Every month, a greenhorn producer rises to the surface with their finished product. Usually co-starring a familiar Nollywood face to attract ticket buyers and lend some credibility to the project, these films are usually produced with the aim of getting a foot in for newcomers, or keeping old timers gainfully employed.

This year alone has welcomed attempts from known and strange faces alike. Mary Lazarus’ Dance to my beat opted for laughs in a bid to attract audiences, Jennifer Mulinde-Schmid (Amara) went for tears, and Tope Tedela and partners tried to incorporate social messaging into a suspenseful tale with What Lies Within. On the other end of the spectrum, Jadesola Osiberu hit romantic comedy gold with Isoken, and Dare Olaitan’s Ojukokoro (Greed) proved too witty to ignore.

Such is the nature of the business. Profitable film studios are the exception and every Nollywood producer is essentially an independent, scraping and struggling to get anything done. Little wonder folks get all touchy feely when the critics land with the reviews and they aren’t effusive.

This review is far from effusive.

IK Ogbonna and partner Nikky Ufondu are the latest actors to catch the producing bug as they seek for means of staying employed. Comedy appears to be the safest bet and so their screenplay, credited to Fab Carter and based on a story conceived by Ogbonna, lazily revels in old school comedic tropes.

Real estate heir Douglas Ekwenife (Mike Ezuruonye) and his spoilt wife, Bianca (Nikky Ufondu) are extremely wealthy and incredibly unhappy. He (over)compensates by namedropping political figures he is associated with in conversations, and also by bullying his domestic staff any chance he gets. She copes by slathering her face with makeup and soaking up sycophantic praise from her style assistant/doormat, a cartoonish figure embodied by Denrele Edun.

Their lives are disrupted when Douglas’ cousin, Enyinnaya (IK Ogbonna) stops by to visit from the village in Mbosi. Enyinnaya is accompanied by his immediate family; wife, Ugonma (Queen Nwokoye) and only son. They are unexposed, loud and intrusive, in the way that Nollywood expects village folk to be. They are also woefully ignorant, in ways that are unbelievable in 2017 Nigeria but played by the film’s makers to elicit laughs.

Enyinnaya and his wife, for instance, have never seen a pool before, neither have they any idea what a heater does. They also prefer to sleep outside, directly under the moonlight. In one scene, Enyinnaya bathes his son in the pool while his wife does the family’s laundry a few feet away.

The whole unexposed village bumpkin act comes more naturally to Nwokoye. Unsurprisingly too as she has become famous on the strength of playing similar roles in made for television films shot in Asaba, Delta state. Ogbonna who has struggled for most of his career to be taken seriously as an actor has more difficulty pulling off his role.

Thanks to a hardworking wardrobe and makeup team, Ogbonna nails the physicals of his character and while he huffs and puffs as much as his director, Damijo Efe-Young allows him to, he never quite convinces with his over the top stuttering and half cooked Igbo accent.

On the other side of the divide, Nikky Ufondu’s scenes constitutes some of the film’s weakest elements as she assumes screaming and yelling are the acting gold standard for portraying disdain and exasperation.

Mike Ezuruonye brings in some much needed calm to his portrayal of the frustrated host but the script is inconsistent and soon has him swinging wildly for camp. It isn’t always a pretty sight. Denrele Edun and Lisa Omorodion have fun in oddball supporting roles.

Amen estate in Ibeju Lekki, Lagos, has become a favoured location for film producers and scouts and in Excess Luggage, there seems to be some kind of deal to project the estate’s impressive architecture as it is tied in with Douglas’ business interests.

It is easy to see how Excess Luggage could have been better. The writing has some moments that can be considered smart, the picture is bright and colourful and the actors are involved. But a lack of ambition creeps in almost immediately and it becomes a run off the mill fish out of water comedy. There is an attempt to introduce a dramatic element as the screenplay diverts into an exploration of the lead couple’s marriage but it is handled shoddily.

It does not help that the film stretches for a long time, suffers from continuity issues and begins to swim in circles of repetition until it peters out in a typical Nollywood happy ending that of course, fails the credibility test.

It seems that Nollywood films can either be funny or well made. No prizes for guessing which category Excess Luggage lands.

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