I reckon there is an alternate version of Ramesh Jai’s ‘Badluck Joe’ loafing in the cloud. This unmade script is a deft satire about the cynical machinations and mafias that spawn around grief when the rights to oversee funeral rites are at stake, in addition to a juicy inheritance of course.
This unmade version isn’t called ‘Badluck Joe’ because it doesn’t need a Chris Attoh type to have top billing. It probably revolves around the hapless nurse Sika Osei plays and says what it wants to say about gender and asinine familial rifts in half the time.
But this version I daydreamed about fleetingly after the actual ‘Badluck Joe’ screening never sees the light of day precisely because it doesn’t have a man like Attoh to plaster on posters for some hype in service of the bottom line – at least that’s my first theory as to why this simple comedy ends up with so much fat. I’ll reveal my second soon.
‘Badluck Joe’ wastes no time settling into its farcical and slapstick tone, with Michelle Attoh flying the banner. Last seen by me being hounded by a psychotic Omanza Shaw, Michelle Attoh makes her acting return as the overly bourgie patron saint of slay queens, Madam Francesca, wife to an aged millionaire industrialist known only as Mr. Patapaa. We meet them on their latest BDSM adventure, which quickly becomes a bridge too far for the senior citizen as he kicks the bucket, beneath Francesca’s rough riding.
What follows is a smart montage that outlines the family dynamics in the wake of the death. Funerals are complex enough in the simplest of scenarios. Mr. Patapaa was in his second marriage after splitting from his ex, Beatrice, after about four decades. But Beatrice feels she put in work (for some four decades) and wants her due in the funeral sweepstakes.
Now logic is not one of ‘Badluck Joe’s’ strong points. Plot holes abound as, on a basic level, we ask if this millionaire left a will. There is also the question of why it’s just the two women fighting, given the presumed lack of a will. Families descend into bedlam even within the confines of a will over less. Jai also presents a version of Ghana where a rat race to who buries Mr. Patapaa determines where the wealth goes. To be honest, it’s not even clear if the two women even want the money?
Mind you, we are but a mere 10 minutes into the film when all these questions surface. The answers never came. Jai, of course, knows this and he needs to distract us from this albatross called logic.
This leads me to my second theory as to why this film isn’t as simple as could have been. He just dumps two other plots into this story about bereavement giving a foothold to Joe, Chris Attoh’s kwashei boy turned 419 scammer.
Joe means well, in his own way. Gone are the days of stealing flatscreens and purse snatching. He’s met a girl he loves, Abena (Adomaa). So he turns to the much safer option cybercrime for money to start a life with her. Joe is punching above his weight. Massively. The tender-hearted Abena is clearly too good for him. But their relationship is like a rubber band being stretched. We know it’s going to break and when it does, it will be all Joe’s fault.
Forgot about the funeral yet?
Well, an early Deux Ex Machina comes our way after Beatrice draws first blood. She decides Mr. Patapaa’s burial will be in 24 hours. Zuri (Osei) is a willing participant to this scheme, eager to prove her worth as a peripheral member of the family. She starts a chain of body snatching that goes horribly wrong and by sheer happenstance, Joe finds himself embedded in this family circus.
‘Badluck Joe’s’ frenzied pacing makes it easy to digest the convoluted plot as it unravels. Sitting to write about it, later on, the messy and bloated plot mutates into something migraine-inducing. The narrative is littered with a million flashbacks, all in service of Joe and Zuri and hilariously oblivious to the subtitle of the film “All because of Patapaa.”
It’s really three films in one here; one about the stretched rubber band that is Joe and Abena’s relationship, the other about the scars Zuri carries after being brought up in a household that girls might assume was an annex of a Taliban state. These two threads crowd out the befuddling but infinitely more intriguing tale about the burial of Patapaa (there’s your title actually) which slowly becomes a footnote.
When Jai is not weighed down by the overthought tone-deaf baggage in Zuri and Joe’s lives, he is able to steer his ship into mildly competent waters. He smartly milks a misfits-buddy cop vibe as our two leads find some shared grounding on a plane of despair and confusion despite coming from two different worlds. Going further, there was even something satisfying about their understated coda.
Like most mainstream Ghanaian film’s ‘Badluck Joe’ hangs its hat on its comic beats. It never threatens to hit the satirical or darkly comic heights I would have loved. But the slapstick and wacky ticks elicit consistent laughs even when the film settles for the predictable.
Michelle Attoh is munching on the scenery with a faux French accent, occasionally letting slip some assured Ga. Jai draws on the Spielberg playbook, among others, for an enduring gag involving coffin and corpse mishaps. Then there’s Abena’s dad’s affinity for Hindi movies and the underrated lingual perks that come with it.
You won’t catch anyone calling ‘Badluck Joe’ boring. But its misguided attempt at fleshing out character and assigning depth to a frivolous fracas leaves us with an exercise in overkill instead of a story that should have done what it said on the tin and been all about Patapaa.
You had one job Jai.
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