Critical Assignment

Big-budget Pan-African actioner has the distinction of being funded by a multinational corporation and officially endorsed by the U.N. Handsome, f/x-enhanced but sanitized action-adventurer performed well on home turf but is unlikely to grab usual demographics off continent.

With:
With: Michael Power, Moshidi Motshegwa, Terence Reis, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Thami Ngubeni, Patrick Shai, Buki Ajayki.

Big-budget Pan-African actioner “Critical Assignment” has the distinction of being funded by a multinational corporation and officially endorsed by the U.N. A giant leap in product placement, pic stars Michael Power, the ultra-popular ad icon featured in a series of high-end Guinness Beer commercials, as a heroic African reporter. Handsome, f/x-enhanced but sanitized action-adventurer (virtuously low on sex and violence) performed well on home turf but is unlikely to grab usual demographics off continent. Yet pic’s all-African cast and crew and well-meaning attempt to deploy pop culture to promote clean water and clean living may intrigue select upscale auds.

“Assignment” begins somewhere in Eastern Europe (this is a film with no borders and no specificity) where Power is shown manfully dodging bullets and singlehandedly saving news crews. He jets to Chicago to pick up a prestigious press award, then goes home to a nameless African state, an amalgam of assorted scenic swatches from several African nations.

Opportunely, at the moment Power is assigned to cover the global water crisis, the president of his generic African country resolves to redirect his nation’s resources from buying arms to supplying disease-free H2O to its citizens.

As cabinet ministers and arms dealers conspire to derail the president’s humanitarian proposal, Power finds himself in the thick of it, racing across rooftops and chasing villains on motorcycle while romancing the defense minister’s ward (Thami Ngubeni).

When he’s not saving the world for humanity or soaping his pecs in the shower, Power hangs in bars with friends or at village fetes with family, genially sipping brew. In this ad-conceived never-never land, designated drivers never exceed the two-beer limit and international multi-billionaires leap from planes to avoid the embarrassment of public prosecution.

Power combines killer good looks with the convincing niceness of a Michael Jordan. His journalist/adventurer reintegrates the schizophrenic Clark Kent/Superman split: He can both rescue colleagues from bombs seconds from detonation and stand around looking thoughtful and modest for the moralizing wrap-ups.

Helmer Jason Xenopoulos cautiously doses out his adrenaline rushes throughout the film, careful to avoid gore (though one villain gets flambeed) and collateral damage.

Polished, all-pro tech and thesping credits are solid, and should encourage further home-grown pan-African production.

Critical Assignment

South Africa

Production: An MPTM/Moonlighting production in association with Spectrum Prods. (Cameroon), Advantage Prods. (Ghana), Blue Sky Films (Kenya) and Alphavision (Nigeria). Produced by Bob Mahoney. Executive producer, Celia Couchman. Directed by Jason Xenopoulos. Screenplay, Tunde Babalola,from a story by Babalola, Celia Couchman, Bob Mahoney.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Michael Brierley; editor, Ronelle Loots; music, Joe Campbell, Paul Hart; music supervisior, Philip Moross; production designer, Billy Keam; costume designer, Diane Cilliers; sound (Dolby), Ivan Milborrow; casting, Christa Schamberger. Reviewed at African Film Festival, New York, April 5, 2004. Running time: 110 MIN.

With: With: Michael Power, Moshidi Motshegwa, Terence Reis, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Thami Ngubeni, Patrick Shai, Buki Ajayki.

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