Saturday, October 25, 2014

BONUS REVIEW: The Gods Must Be Crazy 5 (aka The Gods Must Be Funny In China)


First off, we're right back to the subtitling problem I had with Part 3, where it's white, borderless text which completely vanishes whenever a scene is brightly lit, or people are wearing white, or somebody sets a white sheet of paper on a table in the middle of a big exposition scene. Add to this an awkwardly written translation and the titles flying on and off at a rapid-fire pace, and there's a good third of this movie I'm just straight up not able to read. So there's parts of this story where I'm only guessing what happened based on visuals and performance alone, and aside from N!xau and a rotund man nick-named Fatty, I don't have a clue what any of the character's names are, and the string of blanks on IMDb shows that nobody else does, either. At least there's no narrators who go completely untranslated this time around.

I'm going to nickname one of the leads Mom. She's not actually a mother, and laments the fact that she's approaching middle age and never got married or had children, but she's very much the den mother of the group, and hooks up with Fatty at the end, so I'm going with Mom. Mom is trying to sell a line of non-stick cook wear, but is having trouble finding a spokesman. She's been making do with a trio of dudes - Chubby, Nerdy, and Ted Mosby - but their synchronized dance routine while dressed in drag hasn't been going over too well. That's when Mom spots N!xau, who's been living in Hong Kong for a while, to the point where he's starting to learn the language (aka, he's dubbed in Cantonese), and has been pulling odd jobs to try to earn a ticket back to the Kalahari. He's currently working for Fatty as a salesman for Coke, and when he's not running around with a giant bottle display slung to his back, N!xau is forced to smile his way through embarrassing performances involving African drums, pretty Asian women in blackface, and blowdart demonstrations.

I did still really enjoy N!xau's performance in the last two movies, and thought he had a lot of fun and some good bits to play off of, but it's sad and infuriating how they've turned him into an old-school stereotypical minstrel buffoon here. Except for some survival skills kicking in later on, he's portrayed as a barely functioning fool who doesn't understand what's going on around him, and is often the butt of peoples' jokes, as when Mom and Fatty team up to make N!xau their shared spokesman, but Chubby, Nerdy, and Ted Mosby all argue he's "too dark in tone" and "most Africans have AIDs!" Yes, that's a thing that's really said. And the 3 Douches carry on with such bullying, insulting N!xau at every turn as he paints pictures on the walls of the family he left behind, joins them in a race, and even saves their lives repeatedly. N!xau himself is giving a good performance, but he's been put in a very unfortunate and unkind position, and it's just not fun to see him here.

Anyways, that race I just mentioned. As part of their promotional deal, N!xau and the 3 Douches take part in a massive marathon event along the Great Wall of China and into and out of the Chinese wilderness. Also running are Shaolin monks and Middle Easterners, the monks so we can have random martial arts displays over who gets to eat the last bean cube, the Middle Easterners so their robes can be stolen as disguises. Our villain comes in the form of some ridiculously rich evil guy I'll call Cheney, who wants nothing more than to steal a panda, so he and his goons infiltrate the race in the hopes of poaching from the natural wilderness.

When separated from the others by a bizarre cliffside rope gag, N!xau comes across the rural farmhouse of a woman I'm calling Snow White, as she shares the house with six pandas who sit at the table for meals and are trained in all manner of tricks. Which amuse N!xau to the point where he delights in performing said tricks as though he's a trained animal (oh for the love of WHY). They're soon joined by Mom, Fatty, and the 3 Douches, and the boys of course all fall madly in love with Snow White, even Ted Mosby, despite his flirtations with Pretty Niece, Fatty's pretty neice.

Cheney and the bad guys show up, try to steal the pandas, there's fights, traps, traps upon traps, vomit, a synchronized sequence of everyone turning in their sleep until every man simultaneously takes a foot to their ballsacks, and tents and poison gas. And then N!xau meets and has a long conversation with a chimpanzee who remembers meeting him in Africa. They take a drive in Steve's shrubbery camouflaged jeep from the second film, which the chimp just has for no reason, then commune with the animals as wildlife teams up with N!xau to descend on Cheney's forces. Even a turtle who tells N!xau to throw it at people, in one of the few bits that actually made me chuckle.

Cheney still steals the pandas, but then he's outed to the race as all the other contestants team up to take his goons down. And then he's in a motorcycle with one panda in the sidecar. And then trying to get the panda back in the sidecar when it stops to drink a coke. And then he's stopped by our heroes as he finds himself facing the gunbarrels of a Chinese military that's very displeased with his poaching. And then our heroes all hook up in merriment for a big dance number over the closing credits.

Even if I had crisp, readable subtitles, I don't know that I'd consider this to be anything but a shit movie. There's no reason for N!xau to be here, as so little of the story is actually about him, and what's there is deeply insulting and deserves a kick to the shins of everyone involved. Snow White and the 6 Pandas are lovely, but also deserve a better film. The 3 Douches are completely uninteresting and unsympathetic. I did actually like Mom and Fatty just a hair, as the actors had some nice chemistry, but even they're stuck in bad physical gags or a bit where they pork out on poisoned melons and wake up in the boiling pots of shadowy rural folk (who are actually cleansing them of poison, not prepping them to eat, as is believed).

It's just a lousy comedy whose only chance of getting some marketing buzz was by saddling itself to a franchise it was unworthy of. Yes, I'm even saying that with the prior two films in mind. Part 3 is an odd, yet strangely magical film that works in spite of itself. Part 4 has some specifically shitty things, yet is otherwise blandly competent and inoffensive. This is just shit all the way through, and a sad finale to N!xau's career and the character he'll always be remembered for.


The Gods Must Be Crazy 5 is an even further departure for the series than 4 was, with N!xau living in China and having gained the ability to speak Chinese and communicate with those around him. At least, I think. If I'm right in that understanding, it doesn't change the character nearly as much as I thought it might, but it does drive the film firmly outside of any resemblance to the series.

A lot of the confusion comes because the subtitles in the only copy I could find are done in a way so they're unreadable when the lower part of the screen is bright, which happens constantly, making the story quite difficult to follow at times. There's a marathon of some sort, and there's a villain obsessed for some reason with getting pandas which are on the marathon's route. N!xau is drafted to replace a missing member on the Hong Kong team that's competing, and from there it's a loose collection of rapid fire gags and crude jokes that mostly fall flat, up until we get to N!xau dancing with a panda and then going to the domesticated panda house, and then a kung fu fight, and a talking turtle, and a monkey who drives and...

Actually, the first fight sequence in the forest is done really well, and a lot of the comedy infused in that part works, suggesting we're either seeing a genre director attempting to spread out into other areas outside of his strengths, or a good action director doing what he can with an extremely poorly written script that's been dropped on him. In any case, the most this picture has to offer is an illustration of how far from source material a property can drift. Beyond that, it's such an uneven slog of weird to me that I can't recommend it. Still better than the fourth film though.

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