Following a well-received dramatic turn earlier in the year with Asurf Oluseyi’s Hakkunde, Kunle Idowu continues his fast track to typecasting purgatory with Mentally, a bizarre, stoner comic fantasy about (gasp!) a young man searching for a job on the streets of Lagos.
As long as Nigeria continues to exist as an underperforming nation, stories of frustrated, not-so-young job seekers will always be relatable but there is no law that states that Mr Idowu has to play them all. Hakkunde worked because it was the first time- at least on that scale- that someone had decided to subvert Idowu’s desperately funny alter ego from the web series of skits, The Interview.
Hakkunde took the idea of Kunle Idowu as Frank Donga and fleshened it out into a person worth accompanying on a journey, adding some layers of humanity to a one note character. Even Idowu was forced to step up his game.
James Abinibi’s Mentally on the other hand, tries for nothing beyond placing Idowu on familiar terrain and presenting the audience with a relatable concept, one that is instantly timed to deliver the laughs.
Mentally does deliver the laughs on occasion, and there is something to be said about a film so demented, it plays loose with structure and does not seek to confirm to any genre beyond the stoner comedy shelf. Still this review would have been more agreeable if Abinibi had taken the time and effort to clean up his film and ensure that the final product was more elegant than what he presents.
Idowu’s Akin is a graduate, living in the village with his mother, a kind, loving, retired teacher who would rather have her son remain in the village, broke and living off her pension, than try his luck in the big city. Akin has his eyes on the bigger picture and insists on taking the plunge into the big city’s waters. Mama warns him explicitly, in the way all Nigerian mamas do at some point in their lives. Be careful, remember the child of whom you are. Don’t do drugs. Bla bla bla.
Akin moves to big bad Lagos and without anyone needing to mention, you can tell that he is about to be swallowed alive by the big city. In his first hour in Lagos, he is hustled by a preacher man (Arole, of course) and harassed by a conductor (an overeager Adekunle Gold). Fortunately (or maybe not,) his childhood friend, Emeka is there to guide him and they both survive the first awkward events only to hook up with Emeka’s circle of unemployed friends at an old building where they meet frequently to take off the edge by smoking the good stuff.
Precious reel minutes are wasted arguing on the merits and demerits of substance abuse before Mentally segues into a hazy, marijuana induced fever dream that takes place in a small village where the characters are weird, the language is stranger, and nothing is designed to make sense. Akin becomes wrapped up in the affairs of the commune and is soon running for his life.
Some viewers will find this portion of the film to their tastes and will be happy to follow the tiny clues and nods to brilliance that Abinibi’s screenplay drops as events fly buy. The music becomes repetitive but like the rest of the film, there isn’t any rhyme or reason to why it is actually drafted in. To appreciate Mentally, belief should be suspended at the door to the theatre, sense too, as the sheer madcap of it all may put other viewers off.
But a lot of the comedy is lost in translation and the film for some reason, chooses to withhold the dialogue from some of the characters.
Thankfully the running time isn’t drawn out and Mentally ends just as quickly as it started, with a timely warning to viewers to stay off drugs.
Otherwise you know, policemen will be waiting to sweep you to jail. Mama was right after all.