One Lagos Night was befittingly the closing night film at the Nollywoodweek (Online) Festival 2021, even though we were not in some posh Lagos event hall. It should be noted that although the festival takes place in Paris normally, One Lagos Night still fits the bill (with its title) because Nollywood boasts the most entries at the diasporan annual festival that aims to elevate black stories. On this closing night, the film’s representatives, director Ekene Som Mekwunye, debutant Genoveva Umeh, and lead actor Ikponmwosa Gold, gave us (in my opinion) the best Q&A panel at the event. Or was it just final night excitement? I don’t think so. Despite occasional network hassles, the two cast members had an energy that I had not seen in the previous three days. This energy was highly noticeable in Ikponmwosa Gold, as he kept the night going with his funny quirks. Maybe he is just more experienced at such and knew what we wanted which other panels had not provided us, or he is just naturally funny, aided by his resting ‘Mr Bean’ face.
Why have I made my introduction a brief recap of the closing night and a commendation of Gold’s efforts? This is because the film fails for these two reasons and you should understand better shortly. This stems from a behind-the-scenes reveal from director Ekene Som Mekwunye and his decision to hinge the film’s success on Gold’s and his co-lead, Frank Donga’s comedic abilities. This is not a criticism of the naturally talented duo who could have used more help, but a criticism of the direction that they lacked and the script’s inefficiencies.
Directed by Ekene Som Mekwunye, One Lagos Night is about two unemployed friends, Ehiz (Ikponmwosa Gold) and Tayo (Frank Donga) who are down on their luck, and decide to organise an armed robbery, hoping to restore balance in the unequal society that they find themselves. At the time of planning, it is clearly a botched attempt due to their naivety and desperation. The men can only pray that they won’t have to face a ‘big’ dog at the target location, since other pieces in the risky game have been taken care of. However, the movie doesn’t begin in a linear form, instead, it places Ehiz in a future funny predicament. Aided by his narration, we are left to wonder how he got himself here and in what should be full of mystery, One Lagos Night isn’t able to sustain the element of twist that has made earlier Hollywood movies with such opening style successful. Rather, they settle for a straightforward journey back to his predicament which was teased at the beginning. For that reason, most viewers will be left with no thrill and watching the movie might only result in a routine that can be stopped anytime.
In what should be a comedy crime-thriller, the director elects to settle more for the comedy. This can be seen in the hilarity that the men’s ignorance and cluelessness produce. But then, their naivety isn’t a hindrance for them, and their desperation sadly reminds viewers of Nigeria’s crippled state. With the level of unemployment, insecurity and corruption in the country, one might just give God a 7-day ultimatum, find a gun by chance on the 5th day thereabout— and as a ‘spiritual’ person that you are— you might just conclude that it is a sign from God for a “heavenly mission”. However, things do not go as planned. At the target location, they encounter another group of experienced robbers, and the rest of the movie focuses on the drama that ensues on this Lagos night. In the birth of a cat and mouse game, set in a mansion big enough to accommodate everyone, we see Ali Nuhu, Ogbolor, Eniola Badmus, Chris Okagbue, Chigozirim Nwanegbo, and newcomer, Genoveva Umeh, all trying to secure the ‘bag’.
Embarking on a heavenly mission, the actors, unfortunately, lacked fitting guidance. Luckily, director Mekwunye’s innocent remarks at the festival have made it easy to point fingers. He boasted about the talents of his two leads (Gold and Donga) and how they were often left to just do their thing. However, this left Frank Donga frustrated at times on set, and Mekwunye proceeded to talk about how he was confident in his judgment that they could pull it off, due to the actors’ natural comic abilities. Unfortunately, looking closely at the film, this decision might have just been its downfall. By relying too much on their humorous mannerisms and facial expressions (which would only occasionally draw laughter from viewers), the film’s shape and dialogue become tedious to follow. To succeed at improvisation on the big screen, a very strong outline is always needed. Consequently, this makes me curious about the depth of Donga’s frustration on set.
In a number of irregularities, the two main characters sometimes lack the pidgin for certain words, which is implausible, due to their strength in the language that they show other times. A well-constructed script would have helped smoothen such lapses. Furthermore, films with improvisations require strong direction, but gaps can be clearly noticed in this area, which further weaker improvisation struggles to cover up. The characters just linger and throw words around while the minute runs, as Mekwunye also mentioned that they often left the camera on them and it was glorious watching both actors do their thing. Unfortunately, that ‘thing’ can be scarcely found throughout the movie and that ‘thing’ could have been supported better with a fully-fledged script, thereby elevating the film to the desired heavenly realm.
The improvisation just doesn’t work every time in the movie. Underprivileged people breaking into a house where they think they would be alone should make insanely funny scenes. But, One Lagos Night fumbles the bag immensely and settles for too little. Once again, I place this blame all on the direction and the script. No matter how much the actors try to elevate their characters— when they converse, it is too much exposition— when they act, it is too little or repetitive action. Such inefficiency can be seen in some scenes set in their shack that run for too long like an inconclusive two-man play. Nevertheless, the blocking in the small shack is quite impressive, even more beautiful, when they receive an extra guest.
In a faulty case of continuous infodumping, it is more painful when you know the capabilities that the actors possess. This is a comical case where improvisation fails regardless of the performer’s talents. Although Gold and Donga are impressive comic actors, they could’ve used more direction and aid from a sharp script. In what would have been a glorious addition to the Nollywood thriller genre, One Lagos Night could only be saved by these lead actors.
I love it when an artwork is self-referential by poking fun at its chosen elements. The characters make fun of themselves when they carry out some Hollywood-esque moves in Hollywood-like situations, which count as some of the genuinely funny moments in the film that feature the supporting characters. Anytime an art decides to go meta and I recognize it, it gets an automatic mention from me. But when I remember the numerous bland quotes that randomly introduce new scenes at intervals in an unorganised manner, it makes me want to take back my meta praise. At least, make it follow a particular order! Make it introduce the acts, and don’t just throw them around in an uninspiring way. I won’t even be complaining at all if they are funny or boast a certain pattern. Nope! The quotes are attributed to real life and fictional figures, placing them in weirdly ridiculous locations that’s unassuming and cringeworthy. Then at the end, fingers are pointed at you for not laughing. Just watch, you’ll see.
All in all, a faster pace would’ve done the movie well during the mission and would’ve made a thrilling cat-rat chase. Instead, it spends too much time in certain scenes and leaves us unsatisfied with some others. The slow pace doesn’t provide a genuine sense of fear for the wanna-be robbers. As a viewer, you don’t feel like they’re in genuine danger at any point, which makes it easy to stop the movie at any time. One Lagos Night lacks the energy that the soundtrack boasts and the only thing that keeps you till the end is because it makes a short watch at a mere 1hr 42min (that might even count as lost time for some people).
Note: All of the network hassles at the closing night event stemmed from Ikponmwosa Gold. At the same time, he still remained the star of the night, and I can imagine how dejected participants must have been anytime he was kicked out of the virtual space. Gold had all the fun comments and ensured that we hoped for his return each time the network was unfavourable to him. The point is that he couldn’t (and shouldn’t have to) carry a movie in such a manner for 1hr 42min.
- E Sora fun obinrin ooo. (Stay clear of women, they’re dangerous!)
- When the more experienced armed robbers arrive and ask them to kneel down, Frank Donga cracks one dead joke which I’m sure he improvised on the spot, “Na primary school teacher you be?” Oh damn!
- The armed robbers too dey shalaye. Raining exposition out here. Are we meant to know this much about your mission sha? Should it even be coming directly from you in this amount?
- I wish they used time as a factor to heighten the sense of urgency. No one would want to remain in that house until daybreak, abi!
- The funniest scene has to be the scene where Tayo unknowingly drops Ehiz’s full name in less than 30 secs, while Ehiz scrambles to stop him. Old joke, but gold!
- Goof (continuity error): They use two different cuts when he comes out of the swimming pool. At the beginning, the gun is pointed at the side of the head. When we reach the same scene later in the movie, the gun is pointed behind. There are additional slight differences if you look closely.
- Critique the Nigerian society sotay, armed robber sef dey charge phone during mission.
- One strange scene/direction: The first time they enter the mansion and Frank Donga’s Tayo hits (or feels) the wall multiple times is ridiculous coming from the character, despite his poverty. He works as a security in houses like this, so it should be nothing, right? Since they believe that they have the mansion to themselves, a good script could have done wonders with both characters touring the kitchen or the bathroom, rather than wasting time— taking in the beauty of the edifice— a scene which could have ended after Tayo plugged his drained phone.
- One strange dialogue:
“I won’t enter. You’ve to shoot me.”
“Ehn, my pleasure.”
“If you shoot me, the neighbours will hear the sound of the gunshot and call the police. What will you do?”
“Before the police get here, we’ll disappear. Mak I still shoot you?”
(which is an actual final response that makes Ali Nuhu’s character obey the original “oya enter” command).
Too many words in the wrong places and too few in some others… omo!
One Lagos Night is currently streaming on Netflix.