Meme king Odunlade Adekola takes his lowbrow shtick to the big screen with The Vendor, a ribald screwball tale of a young man hustling to make ends meet in the city. It isn’t the most original of concepts that The Vendor saddles itself with and the production values are reflective of the makers’ obvious limitations, but Adekola, fresh off an AMVCA win, has the presence and the rabid fandom to give a hot mess like this some modicum of credibility.
Following a cameo appearance in Toyin Abraham’s cluttered Alakada Reloaded, Adekola and Abraham, two of the biggest crossovers from the Yoruba side of the film industry were reunited as a mismatched couple in the trashy Pascal Amanfo directed Celebrity Marriage. Adekola has obviously been studying Ms Abraham’s playbook for launching unsophisticated comedies serviced directly to a broad, readily available market.
Like the most popular of Abraham’s comedies (Alakada Reloaded, The Ghost and the Tout), The Vendor doesn’t have a credible plot going for it. It instead relies on the physical presence of its star and the bulk of the film’s running time has Adekola moving from one clumsy set up to the other in a desperate search for laughs. Initially it seems like this isn’t going to work as the first thirty minutes of the overlong film is bound to test even the most excited of fans, what with the sluggishness and unsuccessful attempts at humor.
Thankfully for everyone, about midway into the film, the laughs begin to land even when the quality of the film remains stagnant, stuck in that weird space where it cannot quite decide if it wants to be a proper Yoruba film, aware of its audience or an English film with pretensions of respectability.
Adekola is Gbadebo, a local newspaper vendor suffering from some type of entitlement syndrome. He is not quite content with his lot in life and considers his present status- as well as most of the people he interacts with daily- to be beneath him. Gbadebo curses the lack of ambition and success that pervades his environment but the joke is really on him. He is the worst of the bunch, and instead of working his bones or doing whatever it takes to change his status, he spends his days complaining and putting down the honest efforts of those around him.
Gbadebo somehow lands a position as driver to a wealthy young woman, Morayo, played by Adunni Ade. His lack of discipline ensures that he isn’t able to function for long in this capacity before getting into some serious trouble. The story meanders from one set piece to the other, each one clumsily cobbled together. Written and directed by Adekola himself, The Vendor is a vanity project that is sadly coming to be emblematic of what Nollywood considers movie star vehicles.
The Vendor wouldn’t work with anyone else but Adekola in the lead. The project is structured- for want of a better word- around the factors that have made him a crossover sensation. His loud expressiveness, meme ready facial expressions and the willingness to make a fool of himself. Adekola appears in significant portions of The Vendor and ceding the spotlight to his co-stars only works when said co-stars are experienced character actors.
Ms Ade whose character at some point is introduced as a love interest for Adekola’s Gbadebo hasn’t quite mastered how to hold a scene and Adekola isn’t the director- or writer- to help her on this journey. The less said about the host of inexperienced supporting characters, the better.
The Vendor goes on for long stretches, marred by some clumsy editing work, and does not quite know when to quit as Adekola lifts the excesses characteristic of his work on the video format and pastes it on the big screen. The results aren’t pretty but all of these matter less in the long run, as long as there are few laughs to be had and Adekola’s considerable fanbase is willing to follow him to whatever medium he decides to make his playground.
One only wishes he would learn the rules of engagement first.
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.