Netflixable? Kenyan college kids turn “Nairobby” for tuition in this thriller

Today’s Around the World with Netflix outing is a minimalist, just-nasty-enough burglary-gone-wrong tale from Kenya.

“Nairobby,” the debut feature by writer-director Jennifer Gatero, is a “Reservoir Dogs” style no-budget heist picture in which there are no flashbacks to the actual “heist.” It’s set almost entirely in the aftermath, with accusations, backstabbing, betrayals and threats coming as the robbers try to reason out what went wrong.

Five college kids meet in an abandoned building, most in near-hysterics about who “the guards saw” and why “the alarm went off,” when their inside woman, Tasha (Lorna Lemi) “had the codes,” and what they’re going to do when their sixth member, Nick (Martin Gathoga) shows up, bleeding out from a terrible gash in his leg.

They had big plans, it turns out, to “distribute” their college’s scholarship money which they’re sure their corrupt dean will spend on a new Range Rover. It’s what he (Jack Chage) always does, raise money for “disadvantaged students” like most of them, and then buy himself a new car with the cash.

Vivian (Jeritah Mwake), her beau Yobra (Sanchez Ombasa), beret-clad hothead Oti (Neville Ignatius), med student Kama (Martin Ndichu), Tasha and Nick figured they’d use the money, stashed in the dean’s office, the way the dean said it would be used — for tuition.

But 37 million Kenyan shillings has them thinking other thoughts — of raising this one’s daughter elsewhere, of fleeing to Zanzibar and opening a seafood shack one wants to name “Frying Nemo.”

It’s just that Nick is bleeding out, his dad might be mob connected and med student Kama is as useful as a spoon, when what they need is a hospital.

Romantic entanglements, lies, a hidden pistol and recriminations follow as the clock ticks down on the sirens they hear closing in on them.

“I spread lies the way you spread your legs!” (in Swahili, with a bit of English patois thrown in).

Gatero, who appears on camera as a TV newscaster summing up the robbery, throws a lot of melodramatic manipulations into all this, characters shifting from panic and grief to lusty “love the one you’re with” changes in allegiances in an abrupt flash.

But she’s made a tight, suspenseful thriller peppered with flinty, repetitive, David Mamet-style dialogue, as if these college kids are all film students and know their “Heist” and “Reservoir Dogs” references.

“Nairobby” may not be an instant classic. It’s still a sharp enough opening outing to be worth a look and easily earns that second check Netflix should write to give us more gritty tales from Kenya from this very promising first-time director.

Rating: TV-MA, violence, sex, profanity

Cast: Lorna Lemi, Jeritah Mwake, Neville Ignatius, Sanchez Ombasa, Martin Gathoga, Jack Chage and Martin Ndichu

Credits: Scripted and directed by Jennifer Gatero. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:17

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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