Mike Ezuruonye outdoes himself on this one, stepping away from the Nollywood fine boy stereotype he has been stuck in for many years. It is brave, especially because doing comedy in Nigeria is super dicey. First, people already have a perception of you, and when you go outside that, their expectations go through the roof. But then again, if you excel at this, like Rita Dominic in The Meeting or Funke Akindele in Jenifa, you earn their respect for a long long time. Mike must have realised he had to go hard or continue to wait for the next fine boy role he has handed down to him, so he took the plunge and produced his own movie.
Directed by Charles Uwagbai and co-created by Mike Ezuruonye and Juliet Ochieng, Brother Jekwu is the story of a village champion from South-Eastern Nigeria dissatisfied with his village life. He begs his cousin, Nwakaego (Angela Okorie), to ‘show him how to catch fish rather than give him fish’. She obliges him and takes him to Kenya. He has to go through the unthinkable, which include joining a criminal gang, going missing, becoming a maid and landing in a psych ward just to keep body and soul together. In the end, he returns to Nigeria a different man, but with just the same terrible English he has always had.
The story bears an insane similarity to AY’s A Trip to Jamaica, and in some ways Osuofia in London and Jenifa. In all of them, a ‘bush man’ goes to a different, more enlightened city, bad English, mannerisms and all, to try to find a life for themselves. Just like the character Akpos, Jekwu gets obsessed with some girl way out of his league. He gets involved with a dangerous set of people who are set to take his life. Of course, in both films, the culprits are apprehended, and the protagonists get to keep the girl, even though Jekwu’s is a different one from the one he is obsessed with. In both, they get to chant something (In Akpos’ case, ‘Warri’ and ‘Their Father’, in Jekwu’s, ‘Happy Happy!’ and ‘Sadam and Gonnoreah’). And let’s not forget the famous ‘dream scene’, where both of them see their crushes sashaying out of a body of water towards them in a swimsuit.
Brother Jekwu starts out very funny. It doesn’t promise depth, but it delivers on its promise of laughter. His terrible grammar is ridiculous yet fascinating. His ‘limpopo’ dance is hilarious. Mike seems to have built his character so well and done a lot of research into the life of a local Ibo man (it’s interesting how he keeps saying ‘my cousin sister’. I know people who say that). He features a number of comedians too who do very well in their one-scene roles. Funny Bone is particularly rib-cracking, and Nedu as the crazy Hausa landlord is totally in character. Wofaifada and Klint Da Drunk make not-so-funny appearances.
As Brother Jekwu progresses, however, holes begin to creep in that shove the humor out through the window. Jekwu begins to say the same things way too often and the laughs get sparse. The events play out too conveniently, and too many things begin to happen. There suddenly appears a heartbroken Kenyan girl who has no connection at all to the story. So a man is angry because some other man took a girl he met at the club and then risks his life to shoot the entire gang the other man belongs to when they have an operation. And then he gets caught how? The NairaBet advertisement is just annoyingly obvious. What exactly did we pay to see? A movie or an advert. There are definitely more subtle ways to advertise in a film. Nwakaego carries the same artificial weave through a space of several months (Why does this not surprise me?). She gets shot at, but there is no mark of a bullet anywhere on her outfit. And for a badass gang that has survived many years, Madam’s (Juliet Ochieng) gang is too easily apprehended. There are moments where the acting is terrible, and there are places where Jekwu tries too hard. You realize Brother Jekwu is, as many like it, not properly thought out. That a film is comical doesn’t excuse thumb-sized holes.
Brother Jekwu winds up a steep slope. It starts with a rise, one that makes you giggle repeatedly, and then it just goes downhill, till it comes to a point where you can’t stop staring at your watch and asking what’s taking the movie so long. It has the potential to be a great film and would have been if the story was simpler, but it turns out very average and a tad disappointing. It is true what they say; too many hands spoil a good soup.