Fish out of water stories have always been ripe subject matter for comedy-dramas throughout the ages, and in his latest offering, Going Bongo, director Dean Matthew Ronalds presents us with the instantly appealing tale of a rich young LA surgeon who unwittingly volunteers himself for a month-long post in a hospital in Tanzania.
Newcomer Ernest Napoleon plays Dr. Lewis Burger, newly qualified from med-school, loved up with his fiancée Marina (Ashley Olds) and keen to sink his teeth into the medical profession, puts himself forward for a charity auction, not realizing that the lot is actually a month’s work at a struggling hospital in one of the poorest areas of Africa.
Upon arrival, he struggles to get to grips with the culture, whilst at the same time dealing with the sobering realization of the poverty and sickness that his patients have to deal with on a daily basis. Fighting against the hospital’s financial situation, and a Chief of Medicine who seems to have given up the ghost, Burger determines to help in whatever way he can, eventually (and of course, inevitably) realizing his true calling.
On paper, it`s a great story, written by the lead actor himself, and the scenes in Tanzania are beautifully shot to a delightful soundtrack by Alex Hemlock. Unfortunately, however, Going Bongo comes across more like a CBBC drama shown during the Children in Need season than a cinematic feature. This is not to say its message isn’t poignant; the film just feels somewhat lackluster throughout.
This is, perhaps, mainly due to the performances by the lead characters. Napoleon as Dr. Burger never really seems to change from one level of emotion, surprising seeing as in his position as scriptwriter, he clearly had a lot of passion for the subject matter. The scenes in Los Angeles feature a hoard of very wooden actors, unfortunately undermining a lot of the humour that could have been found in the script. That said, the supporting cast of nurses and doctors in the Tanzanian clinic, especially Nyokabi Gethaiga as wannabe actress Nurse Tina, provide a great deal of warmth and likeability, very much making up for a rather slow first act.
It`s a shame that Going Bongo falls rather flat; there is a real message here about the plight of people in or world’s poorest regions, and this could have been a very powerful film with a stronger cast and perhaps a little more of a budget. As it stands, however, there isn’t really anything new here, and I wonder if Going Bongo will manage to find the audience that its message deserves.
Dir: Dean Matthew Ronalds
Scr: Ernest Napoleon
Starring: Ernest Napoleon, Emanuella Galliussi, Ashley Olds, Nyokabi Gethaiga
DOP: Leslie Bumgarner
Music: Alex Hemlock
Run Time: 90 mins
Going Bongo is out now in selected cinemas.