In the 1997 Hollywood film, Devil’s Advocate, Al Pacino, playing a human incarnation of Satan, mischievously named vanity as his favourite sin.
For Dare Olaitan, writer and director of the offbeat black comedy/thriller, Ojukokoro, there is nothing quite as grand as greed. It isn’t just the title of his debut film, Ojukokoro is the loose Yoruba translation of greed, it is the unbendable strand that holds his film together and connects the disparate group of characters that his clever mind is able to come up with.
From time immemorial, greed has always possessed the power to make brother turn against brother, long time colleagues act out against each other and life buddies become sworn enemies. All of these scenarios (and more) present themselves in Ojukokoro, and Olaitan makes use of a fine cast to unspool his feverishly exciting take on this timeless monster.
We are let into the world of Ojukokoro through Andrew (Charles Etubiebi), a manager of Lubcon, a struggling petrol station that may also exist for other reasons. Andrew’s voice over narration provides both impetus and coherence for the chain of events that follow as he attempts to link both past and future with the present.
With its voice over narration, noir-ish mood, ensemble cast and time bending snap structure, Olaitan has obviously studied the iconic films of auteurs like Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) and Guy Ritchie (Snatch). He pays homage to them in ways that may seem obvious but makes it clear that his vision is no lazy copy, as he situates his story very much in present day Nigeria.
The production design, especially within the lived-in filling station where most of the action takes place, shows some meticulous thought and planning went into the filmmaking process and the commitment to faithfulness to the story is admirable. In the world of Ojukokoro, things do not just happen randomly, they are linked to each other by the slightest of chains and not everything has to be neatly resolved.
Andrew may be the inciting element and window into this world of crimes and misdemeanour, but he is far from the most exciting, or interesting character on show. The first third of the film is a bit of a bore and overplays it with the dialogue as the expositions come into play. In this regard, the film is no different from the regular Nollywood fare. The characters are uneven, they speak Hausa, perhaps for the sake of it and the main events are set into play. Someone is kidnapped, ransom is demanded and the payment is merely the first factor in Olaitan’s multi-layered script.
Ojukokoro begins to take flight and differentiate itself when the action moves to the filling station where Andrew is the manager. Etubiebi brings a warm, good looking presence, especially as his intentions begin to reveal themselves, but thankfully, there are more explosive performers within the supporting cast that are also given opportunities to blossom.
Monday (Tope Tedela) and Sunday (Seun Ajayi), two of the station’s filling attendants, make some of the biggest impact. Ajayi in particular who can be seen presently in the Africa Magic comedy series, Hustle, is deliciously unforgettable as the former butcher who lets his impatience to ‘blow’ gets the better of him.
Produced by Femi Ogunsanwo (ZR-7), Ojukokoro’s cast is peopled with some of the brightest young names in Nollywood. Many of them have been consigned to playing attractive blokes and boring lover boys, but Olaitan finds interesting things for them to do and the result is career best output from the likes of Shawn Faqua (hamming it up gleefully) and Emmanuel Ikubese (decent in a one note role).
Sadly, the same cannot be said about the ladies (Somkele Idhalama, Linda Ejiofor and Zainab Balogun) who are dispatched with just as soon as they are introduced. It matters little though as they are genuinely tangential to the story and vision as conceived by Olaitan.
The best thing about Ojukokoro is the screenplay. After that problematic first half, it lights up and begins to punch with precision. The comedy is gold, the zingers in the conversations hit their mark, the plot is deliciously inspired, even when it ventures into ludicrous territory and the actors show perfect timing. The violence when it begins to appear isn’t gratuitous and is capably handled. The simplistic way in which the multiple characters and their back-stories are juggled is the film’s ace.
Ojukokoro is not without a plot hole here and there, iffy acting in some places (Hafiz Oyetoro, Gbolahan Olatunde) and an unforced error that is the post credit scene. But when everything else comes together as sizzling as the finished product does, it is easy to overlook these weaknesses. To truly appreciate the wonderfully unhinged experience of Ojukokoro is to see it yourself.