Reviewer: Esosa Omo-Usoh
The thing that has always stood Genevieve Nnaji out from the Nollywood pack is how over the years she has built a mystery of sorts around her brand.
While the average Nollywood star would come across like a badly scripted, acted and directed amateur piece, Genevieve (even when she starred in the typical badly scripted, acted and directed Nollywood movie) always had this effervescent sheen of Hollywood about her that you couldn’t help but notice.
Granted (in my opinion) her acting has always been one-dimensional and lacking in that range that defines truly versatile acting chops, one has always been reluctant to paint her with the same brush as one would your average Nollywood star.
In creating the personal brand that has stood her out from the Nollywood pack, you can sense a deliberateness in the way she went about it. Where the typical Nollywood star would oversaturate social media with their ever-engaging averageness, Genevieve maintains a presence on social media that is suffused with mystery largely on account of her personal style of conscious non-engagement with the penny-for-a-dozen denizens of social media.
So, when last September it was announced that Netflix had bought the worldwide rights to Genevieve’s directorial debut, Lionheart, it came as no surprise really given that it would take only a star of the caliber of Genevieve to pull off such a feat.
Given her star power and what Netflix optioning Lionheart represents for both her and Nollywood, my expectation, in seeing Lionheart, was that in her directorial debut, Genevieve would serve up nothing remotely resembling the Nollywood she has so deliberately worked hard to distinguish her craft from.
Billed as a comedy, Lionheart’s opening scene nudged me to recalibrate my expectation. One of Nollywood’s biggest challenges has always been how to realistically capture acting without it seeming like it is acting.
The first step in surmounting this challenge lies in scripting. A movie’s script is the building blocks of the story it seeks to tell. It is the actor’s portrayal of the script that fleshes out the skeleton and gives life to the story. So, if you must achieve an impressive body and give life to your story, your skeleton must be sturdy and sufficient enough to be fleshed out.
The storyline in Lionheart is that transport magnate, Chief Ernest Obiagu (Pete Edochie) suffers a heart attack during a meeting regarding a government contract and has to cede CEO/Chairman duties to his younger brother, Godswill Obiagu (Nkem Owoh). Much to her chagrin, his supposedly business-savvy daughter, Adaeze (Genevieve Nnaji) is left to continue with her position as Director of Logistics.
It didn’t take too long for both the audience and board members of Lionheart Transport Limited to find out that the company was in default of a N950m loan taken a year earlier by Chief Obiagu to acquire a fleet of 100 buses in anticipation of a government transportation contract, and with just 30 days left before the Bank calls in the loan.
This shocking news was delivered to Adaeze and Godswill by a trio of external auditors (who seemed like they were performing an unfunny comedy skit) in a manner that is as incongruous as the fact that a company could take a loan of N950m without its board members and key officers being in the know.
Having started out as your typical Nollywood movie, Lionheart progressed as such building absurdity and incongruity as it went.
Still smarting from a near-boardroom coup, Adaeze and Godswill, whilst discussing counter moves to checkmate a hostile take over and make good on repaying the loan, segue into an implausible almost-discussion about her dating life.
Then next comes the Arinze scene that was an incongruous cop out, a meaningless cameo filler and a simplistic unimaginativeness all rolled into one. At this point in the movie, you not only begin to question Adaeze’s s supposed business savvy but also your impression that Genevieve was miles above the cut of the Nollywood average.
The scene that was a bit impressive in Lionheart (i.e. the family dinner scene) detracted rather than added to the movie as it felt disconnected from the general incongruity that preceded it.
There really was nothing intelligently comical about Lionheart even though it is billed a comedy. Its dalliance into drama showed a glaring misapprehension of the concept of board room politics and a disappointing lack of understanding of the nuances of corporate take overs and mergers.
The only attempt in Lionheart to distance itself from the absurd pedestrianism of the typical Nollywood fare was, perhaps, in its impressive aerial cinematography (but then, cinematography is an area in which Nollywood has shown remarkable improvement).
Its Netflix credentials notwithstanding, Lionheart went full-on Nollywood in the police station scene in a manner that beggars belief. For a movie with a four-screen writers credit, surely they could have put a little more thought into the horrid mess that was that scene.
Genevieve’s use of the old Nollywood and the new Nollywood (i.e. celebrity cameos) in casting Lionheart coupled with the standard Nollywood fare of lack of research and pedestrian treatment of subject themes just emphasized the fact that putting lipstick on a pig cannot transform it into a peacock.
I found no performance in Lionheart worthy of remembrance. Although it had in its cast power houses from old Nollywood but the glaring emptiness of its script made the movie an unworthy candidate for any memorable performance. Deprived of a worthy script, the best these power houses could do was a safe rehash that seemed more adlib than scripted.
Lionheart showed absolutely no heart in telling its story. If it truly wanted to make a bold statement, it should have chosen the drama genre (given its thematic thrust) and not comedy to tell its story. However, its glaring deficiency in the latter gives no assurance that it would have fared better if it had gone the route of the former.
Perhaps, the only heart one can find in Lionheart is the fact that Netflix has optioned it but seeing how average the movie is, one wonders if Netflix’s gambit in optioning it is aimed at introducing Nollywood to the world or Nollywood to Netflix fans of Nollywood.
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