Saturday, 27 February 2016

Three Wise Cousins (2016) - Movie Review

Maybe it’s as a result of the certain brand of critic that I took inspiration from to start reviewing films in the first place, but there are times when I wonder if maybe I’m a little too harsh on certain films. Oh sure, stuff like Vacation and War Room most assuredly deserve every fireball I throw their way, but what about the smaller productions? Like, say, The Quarantine Hauntings from last year? Every so often, given how relentlessly I tore the thing apart, I wonder if I was maybe too hard on it given its lower budget and limited release. Then again, I’ve seen amazing low budget films like Lead Me Astray and amazingly awful blockbusters like Pan, so I’m already of the opinion that films are capable of being held to the same standard across the board. Every film gets the same treatment, no question about it. So, with that protecting-my-own-arse clause out of the way, let’s get started with today’s film already.

The plot: Adam (Neil Amituanai), is smitten by local girl Mary (Gloria Ofa Blake). Problem is, he’s too shy to approach her. By chance, he overhears that she wants an ‘island guy’. Adam, seeing an opportunity for himself, flies over to Samoa and connects with his cousins Mose (Vito Vito) and Tavita (Fesuiai Viliamu), in hopes that they can teach him how to be a real island guy.

I’m just gonna assume that this is a thing now, with a micro budgeted local (well, Oceanic at least, since this is a New Zealand effort) production making it to screens every summer that makes me question exactly how deep I should dig into it. Well, with that in mind, how does this fare in terms of budget? Honestly, not that great. I can’t find any exact figures for how much was put into this film financially, but considering the other films I’ve looked at that were made on the cheap, this still looks bad. The production itself looks like it escaped morning kid’s television; you know, the kind that you were forced to watch at home if you wanted to skip primary school that day so that you would get some fa├žade of an education. The whole thing is shot like a ‘special report’ found on most daytime talk shows, complete with the hokey acting when they try to do things “like the locals”. This isn’t helped by how the beginning of the film starts to play out like a particularly weak 80’s sitcom, and then goes into a suitably generic opening credits sequence that straight up is from a weak 80’s sitcom. Seriously, it would not be out of place for Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now to be playing over it, instead of this bland R&B that even Mike Will Made It would be embarrassed by.

That sitcom feeling carries over into the film proper in a couple of respects. For one, this film’s camp levels are beyond explainable limits. I’m sorry but our main character is thicker than the coconut husks the film spends so much time showing being cracked open and, for the most part, I’m not even sure how much of it is the film’s intentional silliness or how much is what I sincerely hope wasn’t intended weirdness. I mean, when Tavita does so much mincing that I was expecting this to turn into a completely different kind of romance and Adam is confounded by the mere concept of sweeping leaves, I want to believe that this film isn’t as dumb as it comes across as.  For another… do I even need to bring up the idiocy of the plot itself? This whole “guy changing himself for a girl” plot was old hat back when Grease did it, so imagine how played out it feels now; we know how it will be resolved, we know that it all end happily because how else could a film like this end, so we spend the majority of the film reciting Spaceballs ("Do something! Do something! Do something!") and waiting for those ending credits.

Of course, that would be fine if the innards of the film were entertaining. Yeah, I doubt that even the influence of heavy ‘medicine’ could make this tired one-note battering feel funny. The big reason why I keep comparing this to a sitcom is because the scenes play out like it is just filling out a 20 minute long bracket, only here it’s for something closer to 90 minutes. It’s like a Mobius strip; Adam wants to learn ‘islander stuff’, they try to teach him, he thinks he can’t do it, he finds resolve, does the thing. Repeat five or six times, making sure to spend an inordinate amount of time detailing the task in question, and you have your movie. Now, because the filmmakers said “no spoilers”, I won’t reveal what happens in the final act, where the film actually does manage to break up the monotony ever so slightly. I’ll just leave it at how it feels really out of place next to the rest of the film, both in content and in tone, and it can feel like being lectured to at times. Or maybe that was just me, considering I’m in roughly the same age range as the main character.

Anyway, tangent; my point is that this film really doesn’t have a lot going for it. Its ‘comedy’ keeps mining from the same stream every scene, running it into the ground in record time, and the overall point(?) of the film is questionable. Not that it isn’t completely without merit, as there is some validity to its ideas of what it means to become a man (I’ll forego a lengthy rant about hackneyed gender roles this time around); just that I’m not sure if the audience and the film are on the same page. If the film is indeed aware of just how dumb pretty much everything Adam is doing is, then it is played a little too straight-faced for it to have any real effect. If the film isn’t aware, then Adam’s prickish behaviour to his cousins, including but not limited to bagging them out for their broken English, pretty much ensures that I cannot care about where his character ends up. I don’t have that much sympathy for the unapologetically stupid and ungrateful.

And yet, even that could have been excusable if there was some greater point to all of it, and in fairness there are whiffs of it here and there like with how Tavita quotes pop song lyrics like it’s some kind of homespun wisdom. However, this isn’t Bro Town we’re talking about here. Hell, even in terms of local lower-class(?) humour, this fails in comparison to Fat Pizza Vs. Housos from a couple years ago. Of course, that’s mainly because both of those shows used its humour and legitimate characters (aside from gruff, camp and useless, these people occupying screen space are not characters) to give some sort of message. Sure, it was usually ridiculous as all hell, but they knew what they were trying to say. Here, it feels like they’re just spinning their wheels getting to any real ‘point’ until the very end, and even then it isn’t anything worth sitting through the rest of the film to get to. This is lame played out slapstick that wouldn’t even pass muster in a community theatre improv class; given how much I defended Housos, I can’t attribute this to it just not being classy enough for me to find funny.

All in all, I am convinced that this isn’t a film. This is a failed pilot for a local TV show that the director decided to edit together into a feature length film. The pacing, the content, the stakes of the plot; it all reeks of “things that shouldn’t be on the big screen”. The acting is okay, and at times Mose will have a funny line or two, but for the most part it’s just the same jokes being retold over and over in every scene, making for a particularly dull experience of a movie.


  1. Good on you. Disagree with 95% of what you've said, but thanks for sharing. I guess perhaps different world views, values base, or historic anchors? Technical aspects could've been improved, but the story line hits all the right notes considering the migration history of the Samoan diaspora, contemporary NZ Samoan issues, and desire for cultural affiliation. This movie continues the Samoan tradition of faleaitu or comedy acts and uses it to full impact. Might not appeal to the general public or follow universal themes, but it hits the right spot for Samoans (and other Pacific communities) many times over.

    1. Well, if nothing else, I'm glad that this film appealed to someone; regardless of what I said, I am by no means going to take that away from anyone. Thanks for reading!