A love of cinema and the cinema of love converge in “Joni’s Promise,” a fresh, energetic romantic comedy from Indonesia. Directorial bow by film critic Joko Anwar is frenetically paced but exhibits a strong sense of comic timing. Film scored solid B.O. on local release in April, and its best fit will be in other Asian territories, with Malaysia the next skedded destination.
Eponymous hero and occasional narrator Joni (boyish Nicholas Saputra, who somewhat resembles Heath Ledger) is employed as a reel courier for a Jakarta cinema chain. Producers and exhibitors maximize their investment by sharing film reels between theaters and staggering screening times. Standard practice, this m.o. allows one print to service two cinemas almost simultaneously.
Couriers, such as Joni, are employed to ensure that reels arrive on time without disruption to the screenings. While waiting for his next pick-up, Joni encounters the sultry, but at this stage anonymous, Angelique (Mariana Renata), who’s waiting to see a film with her brawny film-buff b.f., Otto (Surya Supatra).
Tiring of her beau’s boorish behavior, Angelique is charmed by Joni and promises to reveal her name if he successfully delivers the reels on time. It should be just another day’s work for Joni, but just as the ante is increased, so are the obstacles he must overcome.
In addition to the usual gridlocked Jakarta traffic, Joni’s errand is detoured by bike thieves, a film shoot, a pregnancy, and even a rock band’s audition. Each complication requires substantial suspension of disbelief, but humor carries the day. Narrative digressions set at Joni’s home-base cinema also provide amusement and remind auds of the romantic prize that awaits the hero if he succeeds.
The smart premise is well handled by writer-helmer Anwar. Occasionally, his low budget lets him down, but the uncluttered helming and scripting never do. On screen 90% of the time, Saputra never ceases to appeal as the harried hero. Other perfs are less polished, but since the pic never takes itself too seriously this does no harm.
Lensing is high quality despite obvious budget constraints and the occasional illegality of the shoot. Other tech credits also make the grade. Energetic pop soundtrack maintains the same pleasing vibrancy as the camera movements and cutting.
For the record, pic in question is the 1987 Indonesian comedy “Kejarlah daku kau kutangkap” (Catch Me, I’ll Catch You), directed by Chaerul Umam.