Monday, August 15, 2016

Just 3 Days, Part I (Ghana, 2015)

When we last checked in on Ghana’s Ninja Productions, they were providing us with as much spectacle as a single digit special effects budget could provide in 2011’s presciently named 2016, a film about a small Ghanaian town invaded by baby-punting ColecoVision aliens. 2015’s Just 3 Days tells a somewhat more complicated tale, involving kick-boxing, family secrets, and an ill-advised journey into Hell.

Ninja stock player Rose Mensah stars as Serwaah, the mother of kick-boxer Desmond and his brother Dominic, a sweet natured soul who is also, among many other things, a little person. Dominic is played by another Ninja standby, Joseph “Wayoosi” Osei. Due to Osei’s uniquely child-like appearance, it’s often difficult to tell whether he is meant to be playing an adult or an especially precocious (and often evil) kid. In this case, specific reference is made to his condition, which gives the actor a rare opportunity to portray a character that is presented in a sympathetic light. Osei truly steps up to the task, delivering what I have to say is an accomplished performance. A scene in which Serwaah details the hardships of raising and caring for Dominic as he sobs quietly in the background is especially affecting.

Anyway, it seems that Serwaah and her family have been plagued by a prolonged streak of bad luck, which seems to have coincided with Dominic’s marriage to Anna, the sister of Desmond’s best friend, Lucas. They assume that Anna must be under some kind of curse, as one well might. Desmond confides this to Lucas, who, despite being sworn to secrecy, immediately runs and tells his mother, forcing her to come clean with him and his siblings. They are indeed cursed, she tells them, and it is the result of one of their ancestors entering into a “bad covenant”, one in which he or she chose to exchange happiness in love for long life. As a result, the members of their family live to a very advanced age, but always, upon finding true love, suffer the death of that loved one very shortly afterward. Their women are also sterile and those children that are born, like Lucas and Anna, are kind of dumb—and, as a result, unable to go to college and get a good job (something that Just 3 Days repeatedly stresses the importance of.)

Desmond’s sister, Sophia, another dummy, somehow overhears this conversation among Lucas’ family and rushes home to tell her mother. And if at this point you’ve guessed that Just 3 Days is set in the same town as the other Ninja movies I’ve reviewed--i.e. a sun-blasted hell hole of malicious gossip and neighbor-on-neighbor back stabbing (and which I have to assume is somewhere in, or on the outskirts of, Kumasi)—, you deserve to give yourself the most sparkly sticker in the box. Almost every plot development in this movie is driven by someone nosing around in someone else’s business and then summarily ratting them out, and, in this case, it leads to Serwaah making a startling revelation to her kids.

She tells them how, on a recent trip to Israel, she met a “strange woman” who, upon hearing of her predicament, presented her with three magical items--which comes as a harsh blow to those of us who went to Israel and came back with only a souvenir dreidel. Serwaah presents these items to her children, an event whose solemnity is undermined somewhat by those items being wrapped in a used FedEx envelope like those supplies you stole from the office last week. They are revealed to be a book, a map, and a key. These, Serwaah tells them, will open a gateway to the “underworld” and lead them to a golden box that, when opened, will free them of their curse.

This revelation sets off all of the shouting and quarreling that fills in the non-action parts of so many Ghanaian action movies. One might think it was a country in which no argument was settled in a calm and reasoned manner. It’s all people sitting on their front porches and dabbing the sweat from their brow as they thunder away irritably at one another. (No soda consumption was observed, however.) At least in the case of Just 3 Days these squabbles were subtitled, so I knew what was being discussed. And what was being discussed was not just strategy, but faith. Serwaah, for instance, wants her children to use those magic items to spelunk into Hades and fetch the golden box. Sweet natured Dominic, on the other hand, feels that they should instead seek release from their curse through prayer. Serwaah scoffs at this notion—which is an odd position to take for someone who believes in a literal hell that you can actually visit.

Anyway, because of their town’s aforementioned shittiness, news of the magic key and its companions quickly makes its way back to Lucas and his family. Lucas wastes little time in attempting to steal them in a violent home invasion robbery. When Desmond and his family respond with kick-boxing and bullets, Lucas’ brother Austine swallows the key, only to have it magically extrude itself from his throat when he takes a shot to the head. Desmond and Sophia then recruit a repentant Lucas to take the journey to the underworld with them.

The Underworld, as you might guess, looks like a video game environment, with a lot of looped screaming on the soundtrack to give it that "dude, we are so totally in hell" ambience. The trio makes quick work of capturing the golden box, only to rouse Iron Eagle, the box’s guardian. This Iron Eagle, mind you, should not be confused with the movie starring Louis Gossett Jr.—unless that movie featured a fierce-looking, man-sized robot hawk.

And it is here that Just 3 Days, Part I ends—as it, like all of Ninja Productions’ films, has been transformed into companion films by a simple click of the editor’s blade. While this is a cagey way of getting people to pay twice for the same film, it also alleviates some of the problems common to sequels, like all of the actors looking obviously older than they did in the first film. Also, it’s unlikely that anyone has ever credibly claimed that their childhood memory of Just 3 Days, Part I was “raped” by Just 3 Days, Part II.

Although I am going to emulate the makers of Just 3 Days and take a powder between reviews, I wanted to say that, at this point, I’m enjoying the movie quite a bit. It seems like an improvement on the earlier Ninja Films, both in terms of having a more cinematic look and uniformly good performances. Which is not to say that it doesn’t have its flaws; some clumsy scene transitions among them, as well as a series of noisome in-film plugs that, while refreshingly honest, make Hollywood’s approach to product placement seem subtle by comparison.

In any case, I enjoyed Just 3 Days, Part I enough that I am now looking forward to seeing what Just 3 Days, Part II holds in store. Let’s hope that it doesn’t disappoint me. (You wouldn’t like me when I’m disappointed.)

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