by Okon Ekpo
Brother Jekwu, the new film starring Mike Ezuruonye as a bumbling village idiot who leaves his hometown in search of greener pastures in faraway- wait for it,- Kenya hopes to profit from the wave of success that has trailed films like Osuofia in London in the past and is currently reflecting in the phenomenal commercial response to the two Akpos films (30 Days in Atlanta, A Trip to Jamaica) released by comedian AY Makun.
Fish out of water comedies have always been warmly received by Nollywood audiences because they mine laughs from real time situations that have their bases rooted in the culture, both of the local audience and with the visiting environment where our heroes land. Thus smart filmmakers only need to create a relatable character be it Jenifa, Akpos or Osuofia, put them in comedic situations that jack every cliché relating to the subject matter, and wait for the money to roll in.
Mike Ezuruonye, the Nollywood working actor has a name and a face that is instantly recognisable but it takes more than that to sell tickets. For his first project as star, writer and producer, he wants to mitigate losses as much as possible and goes for the same tried and true formula that has made millions for the likes of AY, Mercy Aigbe and Kingsley Ogoro. This move is more strategic than inspirational and it wouldn’t be a problem at all if Brother Jekwu, the character and film were genuinely interesting.
Brother Jekwu opens with the title character disrupting his younger sister’s romance with a potential suitor. The film sets viewers up with a rewind-for-a-moment-let-us-trace-how-we got-here impression but it quickly loses the thread and jumps on another where brother Jekwu, desperate to find something doing, hooks up with Ego (Angela Okorie), a cousin of his who returns to the village with a fairly used jeep and plenty of money to throw around.
It does not take a discerning gaze to guess that the source of cousin Ego’s new found wealth is questionable, especially when she engages in telephone conversation with a shifty figure played most incredibly by a bad Kenyan actor. But Jekwu isn’t the smartest bulb in the room and agrees to get on the next flight with Ego. Destination: Kenya for a series of misadventures that form the bulk of the film’s running time.
Directed by Charles Uwagbai, working from a screenplay by Ezuruonye himself, Brother Jekwu is not better than it has a right to be. What you see (from the posters and trailer) is what you get and this isn’t saying much. Ezuruonye seems to have a lot of fun playing Jekwu, complete with Igbo accent and terrible grammar but for the most part, he is the only one having all the fun.
A lot of the humour is dead on arrival and fails to find life on screen. Even the addition of comedian like Funnybone and Klint da Drunk in glorified cameos fail to elicit beyond the faintest crack of a smile. The genuine comedic moments have more to do with the expression of physical stunts than whatever is coming out of the characters’ mouths.
On getting to Kenya, Jekwu wastes no time in mixing up with a crime syndicate, headed by a sociopathic, trigger happy overlord, Mrs Boss (Juliet Ochieng) and he is soon underground, jumping from one disastrous scenario to the other.
Brother Jekwu is not very well made. Some shots, especially of the Kenyan landscape are nice to look at but a particular taxi interior scene involving Ezuruonye and Funnybone is a startling example of how not to apply close ups and highlight a weakness with technical skill.
Apart from Ezuruonye who commits to the material from start to finish and Okorie, the acting, especially from the Kenyan side of things is sub-par, almost as if Ezuruonye took particular care to find the most incompetent actors in the country. The film’s politics are insensitive too as Brother Jekwu displays some open discrimination against transsexual and mentally ill persons, all in the name of finding gross out, reliable humour.
Brother Jekwu is basically old school Asaba style film making writ large on the big screen. It has its audience in mind and does not apologise for its choices. Drop common sense, any expectation of detailed plotting or even storytelling at the box office stands and you may well enjoy the insane, twisted, incoherent world that is invoked on screen.