Viva Riva! traffics in some genre clichés but gets the job done
VIVA RIVA! (Djo Tunda Wa Munga). 96 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (August 5) at the Royal. See listing Rating: NNN
A wild and seductive crime thriller, Viva Riva! is a promising early step for Congolese pulp cinema.
Patsha Bay turns in a playful performance as the titular Riva, a cocksure bandit returned home from Angola to the fuel-deprived Congo with a truckload of stolen gasoline. He runs into some familiar genre archetypes, like the silk-clad local crime boss (Diplome Amekindra) and his fiery-haired moll (an exquisite Manie Malone), whom Riva plans to steal next.
There's also Riva's spurned associate (Hoji Fortuna), who prances around looking like a parody of a pimp but cuts a menacing figure nonetheless. Throw in a crooked military officer, some resourceful whores and a priest praying to get a piece of the action and you've got the idea: Guy Ritchie-style mayhem set to the rhythms of African tribal beats.
The plotting is often clumsy and the implausible action gets out of hand; it seems newbie director Djo Tunda Wa Munga has been watching too much Scarface. However, he keeps things interesting with slick cinematography, sex that alternates between comic and tastefully sensual, and violence that reaches new levels of horrifying.