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We see nothing like enough African cinema on UK screens, and certainly very little African popular cinema – so the arrival of this cheerful 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 on satellite TV’s outer reaches that serve up 100 minutes of slapdash plotting, variable acting 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” – though its release in the UK is likely down to its relative slickness: there’s visibly money behind it. Our heroes – four bantering Abujans styled after The Hangover’s Wolfpack – turn up in sports cars and set about manhandling the local women against gleaming, well-dressed backdrops. Their sole redeeming feature is that they use their smooth tongues to rob the rich and give back to slum-bound relatives. Yet as one of the merry men is an industrialist and another a gigolo, you can’t help wondering why they don’t just write a cheque, rather than put themselves through a tortuous non-plot, muddling its way around hacked sex tapes with scant trace of narrative connective tissue.
Well, if watertight storytelling isn’t Merry Men’s strong point, some of the supporting performances are so broad they can only raise chuckles. And director Toka McBaror appears far less interested in organising these disparate elements into a coherent film 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 early days.
Source: The Guardian
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