Thursday, June 9, 2011

Djo Munga's African Movie Award-laden VIVA RIVA!--fast, sexy, dumb as they come

Imagine the conti-nent of Africa quickly devolving from the cradle of civilization into the asshole of the world, and you'll get a rough idea of the level of film-making on display in VIVA RIVA!, the say-it-isn't-so winner of six African Movie Academy awards. (This fact should further give you an idea of the current state of African cinema: They're mimicking movies, not life.) Yes, the film moves fast (but not fast enough). Yes it's very sexy (the scene with our "heroine" being serviced by our "hero" with a set iron bars between them is indeed something). Yes, the filmmaker Djo Munga (shown below) appears to have a nodding acquaintance with film noir. Yet this is hands-down an irredeemably stupid concoction.

From the outset, as one loony character after another does whatever s/he wants at the moment, despite its being supremely unhelpful to her/himself (and flatly unbelievable on planet earth), to the point at which a group of bad guys, after being machine-gunned to death, suddenly get up and attend to business-as-usual (our clueless hero earlier crawled out from under this pile of corpses, but, shucks, even he failed realize how alive they were), it is soon clear that "anything goes." Really? Well then, give me Cole Porter. To think that The Hollywood Reporter called this one "throbbingly realistic"? (One wonders if it was something belonging to the reviewer that was doing the throbbing.)
I am afraid that Mr. Munga is of the school of film that believes whatever you need to have happen at any point in time can simply happen by fiat of the writer/director. While this makes plotting your movie quite easy, it does tend to leave some loose ends. No problem: Munga takes care of all those by fiat, too.

The dialog is what we can call serviceable, although it occasionally rises to the delightfully risible. After gouging out eyeballs, sex organs and much else, our prime villain (Hoji Fortuna, above, right) explains to his men, "We have to be more ruthless." Gotcha. The little lady he's threatening (above, left, and played by Marlene Longange, appears at first to be the hard-nosed head of the army. Wait: she's really a cream puff. But, boy, can she shoot!  Whoops: she can shoot, but she can't aim. Christ: just forget it.

Our hero, Riva, is played by Patsha Bay (above, in his first film role), and his lady love by Manie Malone (below), a looker par excellence. Both radiate sex appeal and do a credible acting job. But the movie itself is such a crass mixture of what has worked better elsewhere put to use by people who haven't a clue that it ends up the kind of foolish hack-job that should give even that popular pastime of big-time bloodshed a bad name.

Worse: If, I as suspect, by hugely over-praising the movie, our critical establishment pulls the rug from under what could have been, with a little genuine encouragement and wrist-slapping where necessary, a better career for the filmmaker -- one that does not cater to every sodden impulse and sleazy whim in order to pass as "realism" -- this will be a real shame.

Viva Riva!, distributed by Music Box Films, opens in New York (at the Angelika), in Los Angeles (at the NuArt and in Portland (Oregon) at Cinema 21. Throughout the remainder of June and July, it will open in another dozen locations. Click here for cities, dates and theaters.

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