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by Magarito El Tonto
I make the mistake I once swore I’d never make. In the hallowed darkness of the cinema, with the laughter of the people swelling to the roof, I make the choice to remain stoic. Not because the film isn’t funny, trust me it is, but because I think baring my teeth to a Nigerian film is uncool and a disgrace to the gods of cinema. Don’t make this mistake with Razz Guy. Laugh. Roll off your seats. Choke on popcorn. Smash your heads. Razz Guy is a funny film that does its job.
Razz Guy tells the story of Temi Johnson (Lasisi Elenu), a smart-talking lawyer whose career is on the rise. He’s a stickler for flawless articulation and is seen, minutes into the film, correcting everyone from a tired-looking newscaster on TV to co-workers. The interns are not left out of his obnoxiousness. And it’s this same streak that sees his boss put him in charge of an incoming merger with some foreign company ahead of an equally qualified colleague.
Temi’s arrogance and maddening desire to correct grammatical errors sees him annoy his co-workers and he gets two snap of the fingers for his stress. This gesture finally means something when a cleaner, a strange looking Frank Donga, arrives to deliver the final snap of fingers that kicks into action a curse that takes Temi’s ability to speak impeccable English. The rest of the film sees Temi struggle to pronounce the simplest of words, speaking lots of gibberish in futile attempts to force his ideas. With the merger coming, Temi must solve his problem or his carefully sculpted reputation crashes to the ground like a stack of cards. Why is Temi like this? His “fone” speaking girlfriend, an affable Nancy Isime, arrives to provide some context to this question. Did it all start as a fad to get the attention of the hot chick many moons ago when he was some random lawyer smitten by sheer beauty? Perhaps it started as a fad and then grew to be a part of him? Maybe, maybe not.
Lasisi Elenu is a force of nature. The premise situates him at the centre of the narrative, hands him the unenviable task of progressing the plot whilst pushing for laughs, and he accepts it with relish. Like Jim Carrey in the insanely funny Liar Liar, Lasisi manages to be likable and sympathetic as he undergoes the customary character growth from unlikable to otherwise. He puts paid to the popular bias that skit performers are untalented grifters occupying the space belonging to actual performers. At least for now.
Perhaps it’s the narrative structure that aids the connection to Lasisi’s character. Unlike the ensemble approach a lot of our comedies adopt, Razz Guy opts for a more character-centric style. The character of interest is spotlighted from the go and we are forced to follow him and regardless of whatever superstar or known-face he interacts with, the story stays with him, the shine never leaves him. This, a stark contrast to more popular style of having the supposed lead character struggle for breath and space in a small pond packed with popular faces all hungry for attention, making connection or empathy of any kind difficult or at best, ephemeral.
The screenplay, by Africa Ukoh and Egbemawei Dimiyei Sammy, takes the simple premise and somehow makes it work. I can imagine the script falling apart in the hands of another writer. Getting so caught up in the torrential downpour of opportunities for comedy that plot progression and character integrity are relegated to after-thoughts. Not like this doesn’t happen in the film. In fact, it does, a lot of times in the second act, where chaos rules and I’m left scratching my head. But the writers find ways to circle back to what matters every now and then. Like a ticking clock in the background, reminding you that you’re not watching the mindless show of shame you were expecting or may be used to. There’s even the time and effort to layer some conversations with quirky biblical allegories. An opening establishing shot of a street marooned in darkness is one of many easy-to-miss cues that suggest a societal awareness that many of our films sometimes lack.
The acting performances range from competent to sparkling. Bucci Franklin, for one, continues to display an artistry that should see him dominate our screens in years to come. Go see the movie to get what I’m talking about. Broda Shaggi does a job. Nancy Isime is forced to make do with a romantic subplot that could and should have meant more. But as the happy-go-lucky girlfriend to Temi, she giggles, laughs and whines her way past her scenes, depicting the ditzy, pampered rich girl, with uncommon ease. Similar to her interesting performance as the titular character in Kayode Kasum’s Kambili, Nancy shows she’s right at home in the depiction of millennial messiness.
With the end credits rolling, I drink in the applause and joyful roars and drop in with a number of laboured hoots. The filmmaker’s dream. Acceptance. Damn the naysayers. But soon, the paint starts to peel off and questions swell with ferocity. What about the Frank Donga’s character? He never shows up again. Not even in the resolution of Temi’s plight. Who is Broda Shaggi to the lead character? He flits in and out of prominence, blustering about with his typical energy but never answers to any purpose. And herein lies an issue. The film shines the torch on the lead character with so much intensity and deliberateness that it leaves the supporting actors groping in the dark. Sparing some attention for them and, by extension, Temi’s relationship with them, would have served the character growth better. The tokenistic apologies at the end don’t cut it. They lack the needed context to mean more.
The film is directed by Udoka Oyeka, who also did Three thieves, and for most parts, he content to place the camera and watch Lasisi strut his stuff. He refuses the urge to intrude and the film is better for it. Maybe that’s why, more than anything else, Razz Guy feels like a thunderous announcement to Nollywood and beyond that Lasisi Elenu is ready for more.