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“Soweto Blaze” Review: Brad Katzen’s Film Fizzles in Its Slapstick Attempt

“Soweto Blaze” Review: Brad Katzen’s Film Fizzles in Its Slapstick Attempt

In all, Soweto Blaze doesn’t take itself too seriously and appears to simply exist for a few light laughs.

By Joseph Jonathan 

In 2021, South Africa’s National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) went into a partnership with streaming giant, Netflix. This partnership was to create a Joint Film Fund to finance six micro-budget films, and Soweto Blaze was one of the films selected. Aside from being a beneficiary of the film fund, one other thing which piqued my interest about the film was the fact that 40 young filmmakers were hosted on the set of the film, allowing them to experience the process of film production firsthand. 

Soweto Blaze starts with a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer, warning the audience that the best way to enjoy the film is by being as high as a kite; this could be an allusion to the fact that the film features a lot of weed smoking and was released on April 20th, International Cannabis Day. However, this disclaimer also makes it clear what type of film lies ahead, and how serious it takes itself. 

Written and directed by Brad Katzen (The Domestic, Stick-Up), the film follows Mo (Matli Mohapeloa), a down-on-his-luck small-time drug peddler whose problems go from bad to worse when his friends, Dill (Sydney Ndlovu) and Pickle (Nyeleti Khoza) drag him into their dim-witted scheme to kidnap Thandi (Dimpho More), the daughter of the local gangster and loan shark, Lebo the Lion (Sello Sebotsane). 

One thing which strikes me as I watch the film is the similarities with the plots of 90s American comedies, Friday (1995) and Excess Baggage (1997). In Friday, Craig Jones, one of the film’s protagonists, is fired from his workplace (for slacking) and he spends the day smoking weed with his best friend Smokey, a small-time drug peddler. He is unknowingly dragged into Smokey’s money problems and things get out of hand. In the case of Soweto Blaze, Dill and Pickle are also fired from their workplace for slacking and while smoking with their friend Mo, they hatch the plan to kidnap Thandi, but Mo shuts them down. Unknown to Mo, they go ahead with the plan and somehow rope him into it. Similarly, in Soweto Blaze, there is a kidnap gone wrong just like in Excess Baggage where a neglected young heiress who staged her own kidnapping to get her father’s attention, actually gets kidnapped by a car thief. 

Soweto Blaze review | Afrocritik
Still from Soweto Blaze

However, unlike the films which Soweto Blaze tries to draw inspiration from, there is not much to laugh about. For one, the plot struggles to find its footing, meandering from one uninspired gag to the next without any semblance of cohesion or narrative direction. The comedic timing — crucial for any successful comedy — falls short, leaving awkward pauses and missed opportunities for genuine laughter in its wake. To further compound the plot’s woes, the dialogue also fails to ignite any sense of intrigue. It lacks sufficient wit or charm necessary to elevate the humour to a more engaging level, and instead of delivering clever quips or memorable lines, the exchanges between characters sometimes come across as stilted and uninspired. A case in point is the scenes where Dill and Pickle are engaged in a back-and-forth argument over the best way to carry out the kidnap. 

Soweto Blaze review | Afrocritik

Soweto Blaze review | Afrocritik

The characters, too, seem not fully fleshed out; they come off instead as shallow caricatures stumbling through contrived scenarios in a desperate attempt to elicit laughter. For instance, aside from the fact that Dill and Pickle attended the same creche as Mo, and they’re regular customers of his weed business (even though we don’t see them ever pay), there’s nothing that suggests why Mo would try to protect them after discovering the kidnap. Also, we know that there’s no love lost between Thandi and her father, but the back story is not enough to show why either one would want the other dead.  

Something else which comes into question is the implausibility of certain scenarios in the film. Mo had never shot a gun in his life but he lands his target on the first try; either the adrenaline of the situation guided the bullet or he’s a shooting prodigy. Also, in another scene where Lebo the Lion is about to kill Dill and Pickle and is interrupted by the escaping Mo and Thandi, instinctively, he and his men shoot them to stop their escape, but when Dill and Pickle exploit the chaos to run away with some cash, the instincts to shoot suddenly disappears and he orders his thugs to chase them instead. This begs the question; what “right thinking” thug would prefer to kill unarmed escapees over people who stole his money? It’s even more ridiculous considering the pain he went through to retrieve the money in the first place. 

The standout element in this film is undeniably the exceptional editing, which steals the spotlight. Credit must be given to the skilled editing team whose mastery of split screens, simulated phone screens, and jump cuts elevates the viewing experience to new heights. Their precise execution of these effects adds a dynamic and entertaining layer to the film, making it a joy to watch. Also, the use of colours is commendable, with some scenes filmed to look like old movies of the 90s and early 2000s. 

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Judging a Film By Its Cover: How Nollywood Film Posters Spark Audience Interest | Afrocritik

In all, Soweto Blaze doesn’t take itself too seriously and appears to simply exist for a few light laughs. This makes you wonder if the film takes its audience seriously or not. Ultimately, it’s a film that could easily be skipped in favour of more rewarding viewing experiences because time lost can never be regained. 

Rating: 1.7/5

(Soweto Blaze is showing on Netflix)

Joseph Jonathan is a historian who seeks to understand how film shapes our cultural identity as a people. He believes that history is more about the future than the past. When he’s not writing about film, you can catch him listening to music or discussing politics. He tweets @JosieJp3.



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