“The Lost Okoroshi” is a shambolic satiric fantasy from Nigeria that never quite finds the laughs it’s looking for or hits the targets of its satire.
It starts with promise and parks its heroic anti-hero in many a time-proven set-up. Director and co-writer Abba Makaba didn’t have the biggest budget, and the simple costumes and African production design are somewhat undone by sloppy, slow-footed editing.
It never quite scores, always a joke without a punchline, a lecture without much in the line of a point.
Raymond (Seun Ajayi) is a Lagos security guard haunted by nightmares. He dreams he’s being chased by spirits, costumed “masquerades” who seem to be calling to him to remember the old ways. He dreams of leaving the city with his wife (Judith Audu) and getting a farm because “our ancestors knew the good life.”
His friend, his displaced-in-the-city “Chief” (Chiwetalu Agu) shares that lament. He’s got a leg injury that won’t heal, because, he says, the herbs used in the country lose their potency in the city and he won’t go to “the white man’s hospital” or any place where Western medicine is practiced.
That doesn’t work out of the chief. Seeing his ghost in his dreams makes Raymond take stock of the Chief’s advice, to “embrace” the purple spirit Okoroshi who is chasing him. He is “a spirit who brings good luck” to those of good will, and “bad luck to the wicked.”
Raymond’s bad luck is to wake up the next day, masked and robed as Okoroshi, unable to shed the “costume,” only able to communicate with growls.
This is where the satire kicks in. The “masquerade” scares everybody — at first. But then he just becomes a part of the scene, dancing in the marketplace, pursued by a youngster with an eye on making a buck out of this “entertainer.”
Okoroshi foils Raymond’s boss’s attempt to choke out a sassy hooker (Ifu Ennada), stops wrongdoers in the act, and comes to the attention of a folk legend-loving psychotherapist (Tope Tedela) and under the influence of the Pythonesque Igbo People’s Secret Society of Heritage Restoration and Reclamation.
The IPSSHRR, “IPshurrrrr,” they call themselves, bicker over how to exploit this piece of folklore come to life, who has custody of Okoroshi, etc.
That, alas, is the only truly funny sequence in “The Lost Okoroshi.” The transition from Raymond to Okoroshi is blase, save for his wife’s search for help (flagging down a taxi proves tricky). The repetitive nightmare scenes (literally repeated footage, from the looks of it), cute dancing bits and the hooker dragging him to a nightclub all fall flat.
The “doctor” is acting in a horror movie, from the looks of him.
The performances are broad enough to be funny, but the editing allows funny bits and funny lines to just lie there, withering in the Nigerian sun.
Cheesy synthesizer music underscores too much of a film that plays better when African drumming, singing or what have you provides the music.
The blend of cutesie and coarse isn’t so much a flaw as another place where Makama doesn’t get the most out of sexual jokes. A whipping with a switch is all a guy who just tried to choke a sex worker to death earns for punishment? Aside from having Okoroshi in his nightmares?
And the ending is a downer out of tune with the movie that came before it.
The conceit, that go-go Nigerians are longing to recapture some of the folkways of “the ancestors” in between playing Nigerian princes on Internet scams, has promise. Nollywood should be able to produce something just as surreal, but more polished and potent than this.
“The Lost Okoroshi” doesn’t deliver the laughs or the social commentary to fully come off.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, sex, profanity
Cast: Seun Ajayi, Judith Audu, Tope Tedela, Chiwetalu Agu
Credits: Directed by Abba Makama, script by Abba Makama, Africa Ukoh. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:34