"Jerusalema" overcomes derivative genre cliches and daunting length to punch home its crime-doesn't-pay message on chutzpah alone.

A propulsive, glossy, Johannesburg-set actioner charting the rise of an ambitious ne’er-do-well a la “Scarface,” “City of God” and virtually every other rags-to-riches-to-ruins underworld epic, “Jerusalema” overcomes derivative genre cliches and daunting length to punch home its crime-doesn’t-pay message on chutzpah alone. Intriguing mainstream fest selection could also do modest international multiplex biz and has genre shelf life.

Cutting his teeth on carjacking, young Lucky Kunene (Jafta Mamabolo as a lad, lead Rapulana Seiphemo as an adult) dreams of bigger scores with loose-cannon chum Zakes (younger Motlatsi Mahloko, older Ronnie Nyakale). Moving to the rough-and-tumble Hillbrow section of South Africa’s largest metropolis, Kunene, whose heroes are Karl Marx, Al Capone and Dale Carnegie, transforms himself into a real-estate crime boss, even as he tries to elude determined white cop Blakkie Swart (Robert Hobbs), vengeful renegade Nazareth Mbolelo (Jeffrey Sekele) and Nigerian drug lord Tony Ngu (Malusi Skenjana). Pic is spiritual cousin to writer-helmer Ralph Ziman’s strong 1995 debut, “Hearts and Minds,” though its energetic urban vibe also recalls the wartime setting of his provocative sophomore effort, 2001’s “The Zookeeper.” Tech credits are pro down the line.

Jerusalema

South Africa

Production

A Muti Films production. (International sales: Moviehouse Entertainment, London.) Produced by Tendeka Matatu. Executive producers, Mark Vennis, Gary Phillips, Ronnie Apteker. Co-producer, Guto Bussab. Directed, written by Ralph Ziman.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Nicolas Hofmeyer; editor, David Helfand; music, Alan Ari Lazar; art director, Flo Ballack; costume designer, Natalie Lundon. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 12, 2008. Running time: 118 MIN.

With

Rapulana Seiphemo, Ronnie Nyakale, Shelly Meskin, Jeffrey Sekele, Malusi Skenjana, Robert Hobbs, Jafta Mamabolo, Motlatsi Mahloko.

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