Saturday, November 1, 2014

BONUS REVIEW: Jewel of the Gods


Unlike the last few films, where my problem with following them came from subtitle/dub issues, I have very little clue what was going on here because the sheer blandness of this movie was projecting a bubble of disinterest that kept pushing my gaze away. I looked at my phone, the clock, books on my shelves, paged through some manga, alphabetized a stack of DVDs. Not even a nude Abe Vigoda with a leaf blower aimed at my eyes could have succeeded in keeping me from looking at the screen more than Jewel of the Gods did.

So yes, our hero couple from the original The Gods Must Be Crazy film, Marius Weyers and Sandra Prinsloo, are back with an attempted ape of Indiana Jones, and I don't know why we're here. These aren't the same characters from the original film: one is now a square-jawed adventurer with a bladed boomerang strapped to his back, the other is a doctor whose father went missing while searching for fabled purple diamonds. It's set in Africa, but instead of using the lush deserts and plains, we instead have some public park trees alongside a generic river, and one of those rock quarries the Power Rangers would always beat up monsters in. It's not even set in the same period, instead dropping us in the early 40s with Nazis about, all Colonel Klink-ing it up as the goofy antagonists.

Along the way, we find out purple diamonds can zap at people like laser beams, our hero gets a Short Round sidekick in the form of a tall white man in brownface as a Calcutta Indiana raised in Dallas (any jokes you can imagine will be better) who wears a type of trucker cap that didn't exist at the time, there's a big fight where a witch doctor chases people around an abandoned factory, and in place of N!xau, we have a "pygmy" keep showing up, who ends the film by saying "Fuck you."

Fuck you, too, movie.

It's boring, badly written, badly shot. The acting isn't awful but didn't do much to hold my interest. The music, when we get any, is a few basic keyboard jabs. There's laughable model shots. People just wander around until they find the next setpiece. We see actual animals killed on screen.

Three times now, this franchise has had me feel I was watching one of the worst films I'd ever seen. It started with Crazy Hong Kong. Then Gods Must Be Funny In China was so awful that I actually warmed a bit to its predecessor. Now Jewel of the Gods has turned my scowls for both into mere dismissive shrugs as at least they were interesting in terms of their randomness and stupidity. This film was like staring at cardboard for 90 minutes.


And here we leave N!xau to see what Marius Weyers was up to when Gods 2 was being shot. In Jewel of the Gods (marketed in some markets as a sequel to The Gods Must Be Crazy for some reason), he plays a character who couldn't possibly be more different than the character he played in the first Gods Must Be Crazy film, and he plays it fantastically.

In this picture, he's a grizzled and jaded no-nonsense adventurer type with an odd name and an unconventional weapon of choice on the trail of some Biblical destructive treasure in Africa that's being sought after by Nazis and a well-bred villainous collector who wears a white suit and hat. It all sounds like it should be a shameless, low-budget ripoff of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but surprisingly, it really isn't. Though it definitely cribs the blueprint of the story wholesale, the execution of it is a great example of how many different ways even such a specific general story can be told, as it has its own pace and feel, one which is even very enjoyable, if only for a while.

The rapport between our protagonist team of Weyers's Snowy Grinder and Joseph Ribeiro's Yankee-accented Calcuttan Archie starts off shaky and stilted, but quickly becomes much more natural and charming as the story keeps throwing them into dangerous situations. Then halfway through, Archie is replaced by Sandra Prinsloo's Ally, and the chemistry between her and Snowy is far more staid and perfunctory, though it's still miles better than the actors' previous pairing in Gods 1.

Jewel of the Gods has numerous intentional callbacks to its Lucasfilm inspiration: Snowy hides in a basket that distinctly resembles the one Marion hid in, Ally tends to a shirtless Snowy's wounds, Archie screams wide-eyed while covered in tarantulas, among dozens of others. It's far from being the best movie I've ever seen, and isn't even the best movie in the post-2 Gods Must Be Crazy pantheon. There are plenty of moments that don't quite work, even in the first half, but the story and its progression kept my interest for a time, even aside from the additional entertainment of keeping a tally of Indiana Jones similarities.

If the second half starts with a dip in character quality, the last quarter goes completely off the rails with an extremely bizarre turn into a trap-filled factory that was supposedly built in pre-Biblical times by aliens, yet has suspiciously normal looking industrial catwalks and chains, and even signs that say "Danger" written in English. This sequence is followed by a very lazily paced mine cart ride that seems to exist for no reason except to prove that Raiders isn't the only Indiana Jones film that the writers saw.

My main problem with this film is that it starts with a lot of promise, follows through on that promise, and then proceeds to abruptly fail as though it was handed off to a different writer midway through. And the end segments just... keep... on... going. The movie's strength for me is in Snowy and Archie's back-and-forth in hostile circumstances, and that seemed to be discarded fairly quickly for the sake of other elements that don't work nearly as well. It's a better film than 4 and 5 to be sure, but so are some people's vacation videos. It's worth watching mostly to see how different a treatment a well-known story can be given, and also to see Marius Weyers playing a quite believable badass. Who'd have guessed?


Tony Williams said...

Not even a nude Abe Vigoda with a leaf blower aimed at my eyes could have succeeded in keeping me from looking at the screen more than Jewel of the Gods did.

*bows* The teacher becomes the student.

We see actual animals killed on screen.

After six of these things I'm guessing one was the producers beating a dead horse.

Strannik said...

Okay, so... one thing I don't get. Was it ever marketed as a sequel? I wouldn't put it past VHS distributors back in the 80s/90s, but judging by the recap alone, there's no real connection to the plot and the characters of The Gods Must Be Crazy. It's not even set in the same time period.