Netflixable? Mixed Messaging from Nollywood — “Man of God”

Apparently, thirty minutes were whacked off the Nigerian running time of “Man of God,” a slick Nigerian “Nollywood” tale of the abused son of an abusive “prophet” and popular TV preacher who spends years dabbling with religion, pursuing a music career and juggling two or even three women as he works his way back to the church and the father who beat him without pity.

That hack-job editing makes this an almost incoherent film, with a laughably choppy narrative and abrupt jumps between scenes as it reduces a years-long story arc into a form that makes little logical sense.

But “Man of God” or “The Man of God” as it is sometimes titled, goes wrong right from the start. The “find-your-way-back-to-your-church-and-your-family” premise is ludicrously illogical given the movie’s warts-and-all treatment of Big Time Protestantism in one of Africa’s most populous countries.

The Prophet Josiah (Jude Chukwuma) is in the middle of a fire, brimstone and score-settling sermon with his devoted flock and huge choir in the palm of his hand in the opening scene.

“Let the airplane of my enemies CRASH into the sea,” he bellows. “Let every evil pregnancy conceived against me be ABORTED by FIRE.”

What the hell? Prophet Josiah is preaching the Gospel of Revenge? That “pregnancy” thing, is it a metaphor or a condemnation of accusing baby mamas?

The fact that he ducks outside to whip “the darkness” out of his distracted, pop-culture-loving, would-rather-play-with-my-friends little boy Samuel is no shock. This is one evil, self-righteous and vindictive bastard.

Of COURSE the kid grows up to be a secular singer and distracted college student, living with backup singer/hustler Rekya (Dorcas Shola Fapson), depending on his classmate and Fellowship (his former church) friend Teju (Osas Ighodaro), whose lovely friend and fellow Christian Joy (Atlanta Bridget Johnson) is the next to turn his head.

Sammy uses them all, turning his attention from each to the next depending on his needs, desires and whims. And all the pleas from Teju, and his mother, who sends him letters via Teju, that he “come back to the Fellowship” fall on deaf ears.

We’ve seen his reasons. We get it. Then why does the movie insist on being about that “journey back” to a place that scarred him for life?

Nigerian Christianity takes a pummeling in this Shola Dada (“The Bridge”) screenplay. Self-righteous, smugly judgmental — those are the pastors and bishop Sammy crosses path with and even works for as a church music director during his journey.

He can’t shake his cynicism any more than he can clean up his language, even after he’s married, abandoned his secular music dreams and supposedly ended his womanizing.

As in a soap opera, temptation, it seems, is everywhere. This “business” attracts unsavory “types,” Sammy included, seems to be the message.

But we don’t have to consider “Sammy King” a righteous man to think he’s got a point. His father was toxic. The movie never gets us past that “He has no BUSINESS going back to church or reconciling with that family.”

The cynical son inherited some of the old man’s rage, which he brings to his later work. He would rather name his own church “Enemies of Satan” than his wife’s idea — “Vineyard of Love.” Positive branding pays, I guess.

The performances aren’t bad, although a couple lean towards “broad and cartoonish.” The production values are good, and the musical interludes well-staged and sung.

It’s still a mess of a movie, with no flow to its long, meandering narrative (I see why they chopped it, but they should have done a better job of it.). And “Man of God” never wants to let us connect with a character we’d root for. The misused women are but accessories and Sammy comes close to being as repellant as the father we meet in the opening scene.

Whatever the promise of its title, whatever the “redemption story” this film wants to tell, it never for a minute makes us root for that redemption, that religion or that this anti-hero whom we are forced to accept needs to find his way “back” to it.

Rating: TV-MA, sexual situations, profanity

Cast:Akah Nnani, Osas Ighodaro, Atlanta Bridget Johnson, Dorcas Shola Fapson and
Jude Chukwuma.

Credits: Directed by Bolanle Austen-Peters, scripted by Shola Dada. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:51

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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