Sunday, May 13, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 15 - THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY (1984)

- Rated PG but would probably get an unjust PG-13 today for some tribal nudity, a few cuss words and bloodless violence.
- Starring Marius Weyers, Sandra Prinsloo, N!xau, Louw Verwey
- Written and Directed by Jamie Uys
- Running time: 1hr 48min

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!)

I first saw this movie in the theater with my dad when I was about 8 years old.  I had know idea what it was about but my dad was raving about it and wanted me to see it.  He saw it earlier and thought I might enjoy it.  Well, I did!  Now, it's been at least 25 years since I've seen it.  I remember it being silly, but thought I needed to watch it again to review it fairly.

The story is a mash-up of plots:  A coke bottle falls from the sky and lands within a tribe of Bushman in South Africa.  At first they think it's a gift from the Gods, but when everyone begins to fight over it, they realize that it's evil. A Bushman named Xi decides to go off on a journey to the edge of the Earth to throw it off.  There is also a war going on not too far away between 2 different political affiliates.  And the final mix in this screwball comedy is a bumbling scientist named Steyn who hopelessly falls in love with the new neighborhood schoolteacher.  The only thing is, he is accident prone around women.  Eventually all three of these storylines cross paths as it turns into an adventure (but still with some comedy) by the film's conclusion.

The film cleverly opens very much like a National Geographic Documentary, with a British narrator explaining how the Bushman live.  But instead of the same old dry dialogue, the narration is often humorous.  He doesn't narrate the whole film, but usually chimes in while the Bushman is around.  The action subplot is surprisingly violent, but it's not graphic.  And Writer/Director Uys throws some wacky slapstick moments (often sped up like a silent film) within the action scenes, which is an odd and welcome tone.

The romantic subplot between the teacher Kate and Steyn isn't very complete, but there are quite a few inspired comedic sight gags here that these sequences are usually fun and a bit charming.  There are plenty of running gags, like Steyn saying "I don't want to talk about it", a car without any breaks, and Steyn's clumsiness.  These are all things that work for the film's advantage.  This is a pretty low budget movie, but what it lacks in production value it makes up for in setting up creative comedy set pieces.  Like when Steyn has to open a gate while jumping out of his moving car, then waiting for the car to go through, then closing the gate and catching up to the car and jumping back in.  It's physical humor that doesn't involve anything vulgar, and THAT'S refreshing.  It reminded me comedies you would see back in the 30's and 40's.  It's not quite as polished, but it definitely has the same spirit as those.

The acting seems to be good.  Real life Bushman N!xau is unforgettable as Xi.  He has a great natural acting ability, and once he gets involved in the adventure at the end, proves to be surprisingly funny.  The film's major flaw, and it's not necessarily the film's fault, but the movie has been dubbed for American audiences.  It seems like the South African accents were too thick for some studio execs so they changed it to make it more mainstream.  I think that was a mistake.  Especially with Kate.  Nothing she says really seems to match with what her mouth is doing.  It was distracting on many occasions.  I would like to see this again with it's original soundtrack.  If I did, I'd probably rate it higher.

Even with the bad dubbing, I still think it's worth checking out.  The comedy has a  Keystone Cops feel and the film is also occasionally touching.  These kinds of silly movies just aren't made anymore and that's too bad.  I still think there's room for these types of films.  As the movie went on I really started to remember it, and by the end was even quoting some of the dialogue.  So, after all these years, THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY holds up quite well.

*** (out of ****)

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