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Stand-up stars Fabrice Eboue and Thomas Ngijol, the duo behind a highly successful 2011 slave comedy — that’s right, “slave comedy” — are back with another wacky, politically incorrect take on race relations with The Crocodile of Botswanga (Le Crocodile du Botswanga). Arguably more ridiculous than their breakout hit Case depart (which raked in 1.8 million admissions at the French box office), this unruly farce, about a soccer agent stuck in a fictitious African dictatorship, dishes out a few pointed gags but is far too sketchy to work as a full-length feature. Initial reports suggest Crocodile will chew up decent returns with inner-city audiences, though may not reach the heights of its predecessor.
Case depart featured Eboue and Ngijol — both French-born with Cameroonian origins — as a pair of Parisian knuckleheads who get whisked away to Martinique in the 19th century, where they’re sold into slavery and abused by a panoply of vicious white masters. It was a rather daring premise, especially as France’s slave-trading history has rarely been treated on the big screen, but one that the filmmakers wound up botching by resorting to lots of low-grade humor, much of it revolving around genital size.
Penis jokes are once again abundant in their second effort (co-directed by Eboue and Lionel Steketee), as are numerous cracks featuring a blow-up sex doll, a toilet brush, AIDS and alligators. What’s once again missing is a plot that can sustain interest beyond ten minutes, with screenwriter Eboue (in collaboration with Blanche Gardin) piling on the punchlines while failing to deliver a narrative that works for the long haul.
When sports agent, Didier (Eboue), and his star player, Leslie Konda (Ibrahim Koma), arrive in the latter’s Sub-Saharan homeland of Botswanga, they receive a royal reception from its ruthlessly dumb dictator, Bobo (Ngijol). But things quickly fly off the rails when Didier trades Leslie over to the national team in exchange for cash, although he gets cold feet once the deal is made. Meanwhile, Bobo humiliates one of his faithful cabinet members (Pascal Nzonzi), demoting him to Minister of Toilets without realizing he’s made an enemy who may come back to bite him.
That’s all there is for plot, with most of the screen time devoted to Bobo’s absurd antics, some of which rather cleverly reflect how African leaders can both revere and reject European ideals, others which are just plain goofy. Speaking French with an accent thick enough to cut through a baobab, Ngijol depicts Bobo as so outlandish and out of his mind, he’s far from believable, even if his paranoid behavior recalls that of brutal post-colonial despots like Charles Taylor and General Idi Amin Dada.
Eboue’s character is given a bit more depth, with Didier initially portrayed as a money-hungry sleazeball before a pang of consciousness makes him change his mind. But the filmmakers’ take on soccer, corruption and exploitation in the Third World — which is also the subject of the recent and far superior Belgian comedy Scouting For Zebras — is so silly and patience-testing, they never really manage to make their point, let alone make us laugh for very long.
Tech credits on this €8 million ($11 million) production are polished, with DP Stephane Leparc (Nous York) taking full advantage of all the sexy scenery, which includes locations lensed in Cuba and South Africa. The score by Guillaume Roussel (3 Days to Kill) is mixed with upbeat African tunes as well as French crooner Alain Souchon’s cheesy ballad “Allo Maman Bobo.”
Production companies: Legende Films, Chez Felix, M6 Films, Mars Films
Cast: Thomas Ngijol, Fabrice Eboue, Claudia Tagbo, Ibrahim Koma, Franck de la Personne
Directors: Fabrice Eboue, Lionel Steketee
Screenwriter: Fabrice Eboue, in collaboration with Blanche Gardin
Producer: Ilan Goldman
Director of photography: Stephane Leparc
Production designer: Maamar Ech-Cheikh
Costume designer: Pierre-Jean Larroque
Editor: Frederique Olszak
Music: Guillaume Roussel
Sales agent: Films Distribution
No rating, 89 minutes
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