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Oris Aigbokhaevbolo: Gbomo Gbomo Express – A Confused Jumble of Grit & Glamour

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Gbomo-Gbomo Express (9) - Gbenro Ajibade and Gideon OkekeIn 2015, Walter Taylaur’s Gbomo Gbomo Express has inherited that peculiar hand-me-down: the not-your-typical-Nollywood film praise. Earlier films to receive that poisoned chalice include Tango with Me and The Figurine.

Advance notice was these films will change Nollywood. That they didn’t change Nollywood should make newer films rethink their approach to hype. I can understand the temptation but it is wise to avoid praise of this kind.

Gbomo Gbomo Express, however, wants that praise, craves it – it stops short of demanding it. Nothing wrong with ambition but Taylaur’s film confuses quality with celebrity. The evidence is right there in the opening shot where you hear an awful version of Yemi Alade’s Johnny. Seconds later it is revealed that it is performed by a wannabe singer auditioning for a record label. It is a clever conceit as the scene serves two purposes. One, it shows the character of the label: not too successful, possibly has no great artist signed, and CEO Austin Mba, played by Ramsey Nouah, has an effective bullshit detector.
Also, the scene shows our filmmaker’s celebrity bona fides; he could clear a Yemi Alade song. The first is evidence of filmmaking nous, especially as what it reveals becomes important as the film goes on. The second is disruptive and merely shows Gbomo Gbomo’s true concern. Let’s say that for a film purporting to show true Lagos grit it has too much of an eye on celebrity and glamour.

Gbomo Gbomo Express follows a small-time band of crooks working in a shawarma joint. Francis (Gideon Okeke) is head of the band; the other members are Filo (Gbenro Ajibade) and Blessing (Kiki Omeili). All three actors are members of the swanky new Nollywood sect. Here they are playing low-class citizens serving the upmarket class fast-food and comeuppance.

When we meet them, they are preparing shawarma and scheming something else. Unfortunately, their first act of small-time crookery is unconvincing. The trio steals a phone off one of three ladies. The victim’s husband (Alex Ekubo) is asked for a ransom. He drops the cash at a secret spot. Someone picks it up. Phone now returned, all is well. The scheme is so silly, that the only way it will succeed is if our crooks have laced their product with something other than chicken or beef and served it citywide. The scene is explicable as satire on the foolishness of rich people. But it isn’t though, because it becomes clear as the film progresses that Mr Taylaur, who doubles as screenwriter, is firmly on the side of the wealthy.

Our crooks move on to bigger fish: kidnap record label boss Austin and demand a ransom. On the night of the kidnapping, they get both Austin and Cassandra (Osas Ighodaro), a rich kid with whom he is cavorting. This kidnapping is easy enough for our crooks, but Austin’s company has no money and, mind you, Oga Austin has a plan; his deputy, Rotimi (Blossom Chukwujekwu) has a plan too. Almost every character has a plan and much of the plot in Gbomo Gbomo Express spirals from the idea that hell is other people’s plans.
With a very sure hand, the film uncovers plans undercutting other plans, producing several twists. The more credible twists are the best part of the film, followed by some of its dialogue.

There are also several camera movements. Nollywood has learned to move the camera but like the film’s last twist, most of these movements are half-clever, overcooked and do nothing for the film. The camerawork isn’t remarkable enough to exist for its beauty alone and not subtle enough to serve the story. It is merely another notch on the bedpost of our director’s run-of-the-mill novelty. With each movement, our director shows he’s trying his hands on one thing but his mind is elsewhere. And perilously, the film’s last twist, a needless, ill-thought conceit, doesn’t hold up to casual analysis. Plot-hole specialists will have fun with this one.

Feel free to ignore the pedants. What is more germane about that last twist is how much it shows just whose side our director has taken. Gbomo Gbomo Express is framed as pretty much any kidnapping story is: as class warfare. The haves vs the have-nots. The immediate crime is perpetrated by the have-nots. But look closer and the remote cause is theft by the haves. As someone once noted, ‘Behind every great fortune there is a great crime.’

Not to Taylaur. To him, crooks are crooks — they deserve what’s coming to them, and the high and mighty are saints. They deserve their wealth and wellbeing. This may be reality in today’s Nigeria but in presenting this without question, Gbomo Gbomo Express becomes an immoral piece of cinema. (The film’s turning point is hinged on a super-rich character who may or may not be modelled on Alison Madueke. She loses a few millions but not much else and, as bonus, gets to exact revenge.)

Again, this film’s fidelity to the trappings of wealth tacitly endorses the moneyed divide that separates Nigeria’s social classes while seeking to show Lagos street-hustling. Wealth is not the worst thing to crave or capture in cinema, but Taylaur also wants the gritty, poverty-wreaked aesthetic that in some hands can be beautiful. But as the picture and setting he has chosen can’t quite give his film grit, he chooses the aforementioned clever camerawork. So when it isn’t all showy angles, it is faces filling the screen. Are we peering into their souls? Not exactly. Do those close-ups reveal something about character? Not by a long shot. The closest we receive to astute characterisation is Cassandra’s shoe fetish—which turns into a plot device anyway.

The unstable tone of the film shows in its humour as well. There’s the relatively highbrow humour of conversations between Austin and Cassandra. And there’s the bumbling, face-in-toilet sort provided by Ajibade’s half-baked conman. To my mind only one succeeds within the film. And it is the highbrow one. This tells all we need to know about which side our director has invested his time.

As for the acting, Ighodaro is competent as a drunken brat. She may not even be acting, as she doesn’t have to do much or be less of the moneyed middle class than she is in real life. Ramsey serves us Recent Ramsey who, it must be said, can phone in a good-enough performance. Gideon Okeke, though, is implicated, and it is through him that the trouble with the film is best expressed.

Okeke’s suave guy playing hustler is a little on the nose; he never lets go of a certain self-regard typical of unsure actors playing a character beneath their station. But he shares only a part of the blame. That he is in a film craving grit is a flaw of casting. Were Taylaur and crew truly invested in the rougher edges of Lagos, they may have sought a few unknown faces in the starring line-up, fresh faces audiences can come to free of preconceived notions—say, similar to what C.J Obasi did with O-Town. Instead, they want celebrity and an assurance of box-office returns. So in place of authenticity, we get a reunion of the guys on Tinsel.

Still, Okeke’s turn here, it must be said, is more successful than it was in Steve Gukas‘s A Place in the Stars. But his lack of conviction is palpable. Surely his heart is in the right place. He wants to be great, to be versatile. But at the moment, his acting is stuck on television.
Tinsel is Gideon Okeke’s baggage. Greed and indecision—shown here as wanting to have his gritty cake and eat it with glamour topping—are Walter Taylaur’s. Inevitably, Gbomo Gbomo Express fails both social classes by patronising one and condescending to the other.

This is especially a failure because the rich don’t need patronising—at the end of a bad day they can dab at their tears with wads of cash. The poor, on the other hand, don’t need condescension—they were doing the best they could, way before Taylaur and company showed up, clever camera and shaky script in hand.

Oris Aigbokhaevbolo is a critic and essayist. His writing on film, books and music appear in The Guardian UK and The Africa Report. He mentored critics at the Durban Film Festival and has attended critic academies in Germany and Holland.In 2015, Aigbokhaevbolo became the first ever winner of the Music/Entertainment Journalist of the Year award (AFRIMA). He tweets @catchoris.

37 Comments

  1. Kush

    December 11, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    I love this review. Thank you Oris

  2. Teris

    December 11, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    this is a rather contempt-riddled write-up (review?) and not particularly well-composed for an award winning journalist/critic/essayist. the first two paragraphs were discouraging. i quit at the 4th.
    but whatever.

    • Teris or Tetrits?

      December 22, 2015 at 3:15 pm

      Teris, ‘not particularly well-composed…’? I don’t think we read same thing. What is well-composed sef? Review na manure?

  3. frank teacher

    December 11, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    “As for the acting, Ighodaro is competent as a drunken brat. She may not even be acting, as she doesn’t have to do much or be less of the moneyed middle class than she is in real life.”

    seriously! nobody told me Osas follow publish her net worth to the public, he actually knows her money level, I mean…
    anyway she came off looking better than some of the other actors, even though he said she may be same as the “drunken brat” she played…

  4. xplorenollywood.com

    December 11, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    I know sometimes I can write long reviews on Nigerian movies, but this feels too much. Some times less is more, hit the nail on the head and focus on the core which can be directing, characterisation and the likes. But thanks for this, I would be avoiding the movie?

    • observer

      December 11, 2015 at 10:32 pm

      He hits the nail on the “head”– it’s another style over substance satire Nollywood film. This is what a movie review should feel like. Read THR, variety, indiewire and co… film reviews are not structured for “less is more”. If you mean he tends or seem to display verbosity, that’s a topic on its own. But I like his reviews.

  5. bae

    December 11, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    Ummm… I felt your hate for the characters for the movie was dragging on and on just to prove how poorly they did. To be honest i felt it was a Tinsel reunion but it was well played and the suspense was there till the end. It was actually funny. Critic that had nothing good today…. keep criticizing…

  6. bae

    December 11, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    Ummm… I felt your hate for the characters in the movie was dragging on and on just to try prove how poorly they did. To be honest i felt it was a Tinsel reunion but it was well played and the suspense was there till the end. It was actually funny. Critic that had nothing good today…. keep criticizing…

  7. bafe

    December 11, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    This is a malice driven write up! Surely it does not represent d movie. I love d film.

  8. bae

    December 11, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    Realliiii?! Whoo gana read diz epistle hmm?!
    Hmm just for 1 movie? Kilode

    • observer

      December 11, 2015 at 10:24 pm

      I read it! People still read, you know.

  9. observer

    December 11, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    Oris, you the best my best film critic in Nigeria. Keep telling it as it is. All these style over substance filmmakers need to learn the truth.

    Do you have your own website? I’d like you see your take on Figurine, Ije and Tango with Me. In fact every film made last 5yrs or that had gotten as being the game changer.

    It is necessary to tell it as it as. I’m tired of complaining and being tagged a snob or hater.

    Keep it up Oris, you will be great! Get a website too!

    • observer

      December 11, 2015 at 10:37 pm

      Gotten hyped as..

  10. observer

    December 11, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    And review Road to Yesterday pls. The film with Genevieve.

    • OA

      December 14, 2015 at 2:24 pm

      Hi Observer, thanks. The RTY review will be ready by weekend.

  11. Tari

    December 11, 2015 at 11:47 pm

    Thanks for the review.
    While I think it was a little too hard on the director, I get the gist of your write up.
    I have always had an issue with Gideon’s acting. He seemed to have won me over a bit with his performance in Saro The Musical (being more a stage fan, I reserve respect for any of the Nollywood folks who has the guts to appear on stage), each time I see him on screen my impression of his less than stellar acting skill is reinforced.

  12. ibukunoluwa

    December 12, 2015 at 4:08 am

    *rolling my eyeballs* I have not even seen the movie yet, but reading this review makes me want to watch. why? because I will assume only a really good movie will make this “professional critic” spew his A-game on dissecting and analyzing to prove a point. For goodness sake see the long epistle he has written over a 1hr40mins (probably less) Nollywood comedy, is it that deep?? mschew, ogbeni shift jor! International critic koo, CEO of rotten tomatoes nii.

    • dropping by

      December 22, 2015 at 3:19 pm

      Aunty Ibukun, there is no alabukun for your brand of ignorance.

    • Ibukunoluwa

      January 3, 2016 at 7:37 am

      Mr/Ms dropping by, if the paragraphs of gibberish in this article is your idea of being knowledgeable, there is something fundamentally wrong with your reasoning faculty.

  13. Jydo

    December 13, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    Lol. I’ve seen this movie. It is truly a mess. Seriously. Some parts of it are idiotic beyond redemption. But this review is even more or a mess. The crux of this entire piece is Oris taking apart what he assumes to be the motives of the director as a person, instead of judging the movie as its own thing, as an individual body of work, and giving critical consideration and analysis to that. Shame, Oris. Shame.

    • Ploboskee

      December 13, 2015 at 2:49 pm

      Speaking of shame. Here goes someone who knows nothing about the authorship of a film or even how to read a review.

    • Please

      December 30, 2015 at 9:09 pm

      Oris? Is that you?

  14. J

    December 13, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.
    – Aristotle

  15. Koffie

    December 14, 2015 at 8:48 am

    I have seen the movie and truly, it was a waste of my N1,5oo. Overhyped and mediocre at best and I agree with the author here on the camera works, painful to watch. Osas was okay though as I expected worse from her. If you’re interested in watching the movie, one advice: spend your money on sharwarma instead, LOL.
    How could you Oris forget the way the crooks died? That part has been overused by folktale where 3 guys steal and somehow all three kill themselves on one spot *blank stare*. Suspense my left foot, oops!

  16. sam

    December 14, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Oh lordy! This is wickedness! Kilode? I think the film was okay. Not great.

    • Patti

      December 15, 2015 at 12:03 pm

      No mind him. I was laughing too much to notice all this his talk. Especailly every time gbenro was on scene.

  17. molarah

    December 14, 2015 at 10:32 am

    Kai! I could not get past the second paragraph. For a piece that is about criticizing another’s work, the grammatical errors in this article were too many for comfort. The irony of it all….

    • Eng ed

      December 14, 2015 at 12:53 pm

      Molarah, we have to doubt how much you know of grammar if you use ‘too many for comfort…’.

    • molarah

      January 8, 2016 at 6:30 pm

      What exactly are you on about?

  18. Patti

    December 15, 2015 at 11:34 am

    Kai. bad belle!!!. I enjoyed this film o. It was very funny and very entertaining. It had some nice story twists and turns too. I don’t know what else people are looking for, when they go and watch a comedy film. *rollseyes*

    • Mister Man

      December 21, 2015 at 10:07 pm

      Er… so comedies shouldn’t make sense? At least I know now it won’t take much to make you and a lot of others commenting here laugh. Really good to know the level of comedic idiocy I can pander to. Perhaps you’ll love my newest comedy… it’s titled Man Bites Dog! There’s a scene where a man bites a dog. It’s very funny I assure you…

  19. Justin

    December 24, 2015 at 7:30 am

    Hmm… I’ve read other reviews of this film, and they have all said the film is good. One also ranked it as the number 3 Nigerian film of 2015. I also just found out that walter taylaur has been nominated for best director AMVCA 2106 for this same film. Well, I guess the film can’t please everyone o just most of us. #JustSaying

  20. Justin

    December 24, 2015 at 7:46 am

    pls Bella, I think i will be steering well clear of any further film reviews from this Orishiris man. Haba!

  21. Phil

    January 5, 2016 at 9:09 am

    C’mon na… Haba! Review? Nah… This is straight out hate for the director. And to claim Gideon’s performance was bad makes a mockery of this whole ‘hate-view’. Oga park well joor, and who told you they were working @ a Shawarma joint? You couldn’t even work out something that simple. Gerrarahere man!

  22. Pearl

    January 8, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    Along comes the kind of reviewer of Nollywood films I’ve been looking for for a long time. I have no opinion on the review, I haven’t seen the film. But what I *do* know is I’m sick of the ass-kissing , sycophantic rubbish I keep seeing because everyone is afraid to offend. So I watch a movie, think it’s crap and then unearth several ‘reviews’ falling over each other to tout it as the best thing since artificial insemination. Sick of it.

    For those saying it’s just a comedy, that’s silly. Filmmaking is serious business, money was invested, time, energy, hopefully creativity. Then off we go to the cinema and when we spend 1,500 buying tickets, it doesn’t matter whether it’s slapstick comedy or high concept spy movie, it’s 1500. So it had better not be silly. Comedy doesn’t mean nonsensical. So someone has to dignify all that by putting his back into giving us a review that recognises both the filmmaker and the audience. Thank you Oris.

    • Pato

      January 9, 2016 at 11:05 pm

      1. You have NOT watched the film. GBAM!!! So how can you challenge opinions of those who have and disagree with the review.
      2. The film is now on iroko go watch it or read the comments – that will tell you exactly what the general public who the film was made for think about it. And 90% of the comments say the film is a hit!!! So in short the review/reviewer is out of touch with what people want/like.

  23. Mobola

    January 29, 2016 at 11:41 pm

    Aye ma nika o. Monsieur Oris, see the way you tore someone’s hard work to shreds. Why do you assume that you know what the director was thinking? Granted, it was a mediocre movie cos half of the cast failed to convince me with their roles, even Ramsay but cut them some slack. Your review isn’t objective, it is spiteful. Your comment about Osas was completely unnecessary.

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