Let me just start this review off with a spoiler alert, because to say what I have to say, I have to give away much of what I saw.
Banana Island Ghost had one of those PR wonder machines that worked it into a movie everyone simply must see. And I wanted to see it. I was hesitant at first though; the movie seemed to have all the ingredients – comedy, romance and a ghost – that instinct has told me Nollywood filmmakers are not capable of stirring well together.
But everyone seemed to be talking about it, and the reports surrounding the movie were not abrasive, so I figured WTH, and went on to see it.
Banana Island Ghost is a romantic comedy which tells the story of two unlikely characters fated to meet each other simply because God has a sense of humour. One’s a ghost (played by Patrick Diabuah), the mischievous Patrick who died from a car accident and isn’t ready to move on to the afterlife because he has not found love, and the other is a living person (played by Chioma ‘Chigul’ Omeruah), the cantankerous Ijeoma who is on a determined mission to save her father’s house. Both of them are forced together and each have three days to achieve their goals: Patrick to make Ijeoma fall in love with him, and Ijeoma to get the millions of naira required to save her deceased father’s house, the house she’s living in, from being appropriated by the bank.
Directed by BB Sasore and produced by Biola Alabi, this movie had the kind of brilliant humour that you don’t see in everyday Nollywood comedies; more faith was placed on the delivery of quips and sarcastic wit, with no over-reliance on overblown antics. And the fact that the cinema hall kept rocking with loud guffaws evidenced the fact that Nigerians do enjoy laughs that aren’t force-fed to us.
The lead actors gave somewhat strong performances. In her role as the female lead, Chigul was a bit too linear, interpreting one facet of her character too well to play the other layers well. Her character, Ijeoma, is this firecracker with a smart mouth, a skin Chigul wore very well, so well in fact that she apparently didn’t seem to know how to pull it off to properly show the vulnerable woman that Patrick was supposed to fall in love with.
Patrick did a better job of being the ghost, near-perfectly vacillating between the mischief-maker, the righteously indignant being who cannot believe the nerve of Ijeoma and the man desperate to find love.
The breakout star of the movie has to be Akah Nnani, who gave the best performance of his career so far as a bumbling police officer; he was funny, dramatic and owned his character – which I suppose doesn’t take much to own, seeing as playing a simpleton doesn’t require much of an imagination.
Another plus is the area where New Nollywood appears to be gaining momentum in – cinematography. Lagos was beautifully captured, and the film was littered with scenic pictures of bridges, a canoe ride on the rippling sea, and an accident scene that was top-notch.
The special effects were good too, with a particular scene where God (Bimbo Manuel) admonished the ghost, surrounded as he was by petals whirling about in the air and a dazzling brilliance about him. The ghost’s vanishing act was none of the unrealistic feats we are used to seeing in Nollywood films, neither an abrupt disappearance nor one accompanied with a crack of lightning (thank God for that!).
But I suppose all these pros were necessary – perhaps engineered even – to distract from the blunders that riddled the movie – blunders that had me wondering whether the director saw the final cut in full before releasing the movie to the public.
The cons ranged from minor exasperations like the lack of exploration of the shock and denial Ijeoma was supposed to feel upon finding that she was interacting with a ghost. She didn’t seem to experience any struggle in coming to terms with the fact that she – and clearly only she – could see a ghost. I mean, she went from screaming in her bed upon waking to a stranger next to her to telling him to “shut up and not disturb her” in a bus so fast, I had to wonder if this was her first rodeo.
Secondly, I know romantic comedies relies on a lot of suspension of disbelief, but it is a lot to ask of your audience to suspend when we watch Ijeoma’s boyfriend (played by Tomiwa Edun) waltz into her workplace with a girl (Dorcas Sola Fapson) in his arms, both of them looking like the sexiest things since Justin Timberlake brought sexy back, and have Ijeoma not only not react with anything more than raised eyebrows, but go ahead to give her man 200 thousand naira – this from a wiseass who’s in desperate need of 18million naira. Chigul’s character struck me as neither that stupid nor that besotted to begin with.
And then there was the part where she performed at a charity event, a scene that was just as plastic as the guests in attendance; or the plot hole that left unanswered the question why Ijeoma’s mother wasn’t living in her father’s house with her; or the over-burdening of product placements in the film – I mean, the scene where Dorcas’s character went to fetch a coke from the fridge was basically a Coca Cola advert I’d much rather see at The Voice Nigeria’s commercial breaks. There was Cold stone, health Plus, Lipton – the movie was just one long, unsubtle advertisement. I mean, who sips tea from a cup with the Lipton bag still overhanging from inside? Who?
Ali Nuhu’s Mr. King character, that’s who.
And that brings me to my biggest exasperation of all. New Nollywood films seem to have an enduring failing; the last two movies I saw, Alter Ego being one of them, are plagued with this weakness. And that is the inability to finish well. The stories are usually good, only to get to an ending that is either rushed or head-scratchingly bewildering. Banana Island Ghost had the uniqueness of possessing both kinds: its ending was B.I.G-ly and spectacularly bad.
And it started like, perhaps, twenty or thirty minutes to the end – when the love pair, Ijeoma and Patrick, set off to try their luck in what was supposed to be a “dangerous” game of poker.
I didn’t pick the qualifier; the ghost himself used it. In telling Ijeoma about the poker game, Patrick impressed on her how perilous the game is and how only bad men who are rich – seeing as you have to ante up with 1 million naira – are let in as players.
But, my brothers and sisters, behold a scene of revelry filled with fire-eaters and belly dancers that had me wondering if Ijeoma and Patrick had wandered into someone’s birthday party by mistake. I hate to draw comparisons with Hollywood, but when somebody mentions “poker” and “danger” in the same breath, what you picture is a gloom-cloaked backroom with a sombre ambience, and servers stealing discretely around, serving drinks to beetle-eyed and heavily-scowling players. Certainly not a vast hall that B.I.G gave us, with several games tables and an air of merriment that makes a buffoonery out of the armed muscled men stalking the hall. The scene looked like TGIF in a casino – nothing scary at all.
And then the game itself – this game that was supposed to be Ijeoma’s final hope; and all we are watching against a backdrop of loud music are pictures of the players pushing chips and naira bills back and forth on the games table. Either Ijeoma is gleefully reaching forward to draw a huge stack of winnings toward her or she’s miserably pushing away chips upon a loss. All this an elaborate show engineered to mask the gaping fact that the movie’s production did not bother with researching the game of poker so that the characters – Patrick especially, who mentioned not once that he was good in the game – could actually play the game for us to witness.
But no, because our movie industry still does not appreciate the concept and importance of research so they can “show, not tell” us the viewers, we were robbed of the anticipation we were supposed to feel in the moments that led up to Ijeoma’s final win.
And that was a scene that led to a flurry of dizzying action sequences and choppy overly-dramatic dialogues that hurtled towards the end like the director had an urgent village meeting to get to and so had to quickly wrap up the film’s editing. I didn’t know who to watch: Patrick ghosting about the men he was fighting, or the female ninja beating the shit out of Ijeoma, or Mr. King firing away at the hysterical police DPO (Saidi Balogun) who Ijeoma brought along as a bodyguard. The zigzagging of these scenes was made even more annoying by the shots of the comedic antics of the police backup, a bunch of Aki-and-Pawpaw wannabes who kept on yelling “Attack” like the word was about to go into extinction from the English language.
This jumbled-up ending also ruined the chemistry that Chigul and Patrick had cultivated for the characters in the duration of the film, making it such an eye-rolling event when they had what was supposed to be this touching, transcendent, I-love-you-but-I-have-to-go goodbye moment just before Patrick ghosted away with God. I rolled my eyes so hard here and all the way to Timbuktu, that I’m still waiting for them to roll back.
And then, when – much to my incredulity – the credits started rolling, I sat there wondering aloud: What about the 18 million that Ijeoma so desperately needed to save her father’s house?
Seriously, someone who knows anyone that knows BB Sasore should extend my question to him. I need to know why the director forgot the second major point of his movie.
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