Merry Men: The Real Yoruba Demons **
Dir: Toka McBaror. With: Ramsey Nouah, Jim Iyke, Falz the Bad Guy, AY Makun. 106 mins. Cert: 15
Compared to our French friends, we see nothing like enough African cinema on our screens, and certainly very little African popular cinema – so the arrival of this cheerfully duff caper, newly minted as Nigeria’s biggest box-office hit of 2018, might seem a forward step. In and of itself, however, it’s not a vast improvement on those Nollywood timekillers one chances across on satellite TV’s outer reaches, serving up 100 minutes of slapdash plotting, variable acting, mid-scene lighting shifts and consistently muffed jokes. Some of Merry Men has evidently been lost in translation, hence the businessman cursed for having “chewed every piece of sliced national cake”. Professionalism was shrugged away long before that, as in the dialogue scene that proceeds with a car alarm going off down the street.
Ironically, its emergence here may be down to perceived slickness: there’s visible money behind it. Our heroes – four bantering Abujans styled after The Hangover’s Wolfpack (or possibly Leo DiCaprio’s erstwhile Pussy Posse) – pull up in sports cars and set about manhandling the local women on gleaming, well-dressed sets; their sole redeeming feature is that they use their access and smooth tongues to rob the rich and give back to slum-bound relatives. Yet as one merry man is an industrialist, and another a gigolo, you can’t help wondering why they don’t just write nearest and dearest a cheque, rather than put themselves through this torturous non-plot, muddling its way around hacked sex tapes with scant trace of narrative connecting tissue.
Well, perhaps the home crowd wasn’t going for watertight storytelling. Some of the supporting performances are so broad they can only raise chuckles; and it belatedly earns the novelty of being the first Nigerian film opening in the UK to cite Kurt Vonnegut among its reference points. Yet throughout director Toka McBaror appears far less interested in organising these disparate elements into anything coherent than ensuring the various hotel chains and hire-car providers who put up some of the collateral get the desired placement. We’re left with glimpses and glimmers of a cinema growing in confidence – one that’s learning how to put its resources up on screen in ways that might appeal to audiences at home and abroad. But it’s still very early days.
Merry Men: The Real Yoruba Demons is now playing in selected cinemas.