Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe are connoisseurs of terrible movies. In this occasional series, they watch and then discuss the fallout of a particularly painful film. Be wary of spoilers.
Ken: Jim, it’s another sweet November for us. Did you realize we are now at the end of our second year of Bad Movie Diaries? I’m celebrating by being in the Midwest during record cold temperatures
Jim: Ken, it seems like only yesterday that we were recoiling in disgust from The Book of Henry, our very first entry. In the last two years, we’ve hit practically every style of bad, weird or ultra low-budget film ever made. But Ken: We’ve never dipped a toe in Uganda before, until now. And whoa, what a memorable trip this is.
Ken: The humble village of Wakaliga is indeed the last place you might expect a BEST ACTION MOVIE to come from. But as you know, Jim, I have a very real soft spot for entries that are EARNEST even if they are also REALLY BAD. And in that regard, I think I’m a legitimate fan of Who Killed Captain Alex? the first widely-released film from “Wakaliwood.” Maybe you can describe the general tone of this film, Jim. It truly requires a lead-in.
Jim: This film almost defies something so cursory as a description of “general tone” though, doesn’t it? I could talk for hours about the charming weirdness of this movie, and like you, it basically made an instant fan of me. The “general tone,” if you can really put it into words, is a hilariously sincere, good-hearted attempt to make a Western-style action movie in Uganda on a budget of somewhere between “zero” and “almost zero.”
Ken: Folks, we’ve got green-screened helicopter sequences that look like they were designed in MS Paint. We’ve got guns that are transparently just hunks of nailed-together wood and tubing, spray-painted with jungle camo patterns, squibs that are basically just .gifs with identical gunshot noises. We’ve got crooked drug mafiosos, valiant local military police and Ugandan Bruce Lee. But mostly, I think you’ll agree, we have VJ Emmie, the narrator, who is making enthusiastic, good-natured riffs on the very movie he himself helped to make, as an audio track that is inextricably and inseparably part of the movie itself. Jim, this movie RIFFS ITSELF. We’ve crossed the Rubicon.
Jim: I could likewise talk about everything Emmie-related for hours, but first, just to qualify—this isn’t the director or something, he’s a guy who works with director Nabwana IGG, which stands (apparently) for Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey. That guy has apparently produced more than 44 feature films, the vast majority of which have only been seen in the poor neighborhoods of Uganda, mostly in his home village Wakaliga outside of Kampala, the Ugandan capital. Only a few of these films have ever been seen in the U.S., the most famous of them being Captain Alex, which was his first feature.
Most of them have apparently been produced for the U.S. equivalent of around $200, which is a budget that makes Glenn Berggoetz look like Steven Spielberg. As the opening postscript to the film says on Amazon, he never expected Who Killed Captain Alex? to be seen outside of his own neighborhood. That really puts the audience into the right frame of mind for watching it, because it tells them not to expect something that is overly concerned with professionalism and production values. Nabwana’s clear goal is just to make something entertaining that will delight his local audience…mostly with the novelty of the film being all-Ugandan.
And they make sure you never forget.
Ken: This film is available in several places, including on Amazon. So it’s safe to say that their reach has far overshot their own humble expectations. It’s kind of inspiring. I am the first guy to argue that all art is for all folks—thus my predilection for weird samurai pot-boilers specifically set in the 18th century. Regardless of who the intended audience was for Who Killed Captain Alex?, its participants are clearly 100% committed to what they’re doing. Jim, tell us the premise of the BEST UGANDAN ACTION MOVIE.
Jim: DA BEST! Who Killed Captain Alex? plunges us into the conflict between the titular Captain Alex (“da best soldier”) and the ruthless Tiger Mafia, who are battling for control of the region outside of Kampala. When Captain Alex and his team of commandos capture the brother of Tiger Mafia leader Richard, the mob boss swears revenge, and that’s pretty much your whole film. This is very light on plot, which makes it fairly easy to follow, at least for the first half. But as you suggest before, the real allure here is the commentary track that runs during the film, from a man calling himself “VJ Emmie.”
Ken: VJ Emmie interjects constantly, but for my money it never gets old. When something totally egregious or retrograde is on screen he’ll facetiously declare, “This is Uganda!” Anytime somebody is sneaking through the brush in full tactical gear, which is like 75% of this movie, he just goes, “Commando!!” His riffs, we should mention, are in cheerful and heavily-accented English and are fucking, fucking hilarious.
Jim: I should explain, at least tangentially, what a “VJ” is. Apparently, in the poorer neighborhoods of Uganda (which Emmie frequently calls “ghettos” throughout), one of the most common ways to see films is by going to a “video hall,” which is essentially a local rec center where films are either projected or shown on TV. At the video hall, a person called a video jockey or video joker leads the audience through the film (especially if it’s in a different language), both yelling out jokes/riffing and also explaining what is happening. Because this is what Ugandan audiences were used to, Nabwana IGG apparently made his film in this same way, although one almost wonders why he thought it was necessary, considering the movie was already in a local dialect. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, because Emmie is ultimately the best thing in the film by far. He has much, much more personality than any of the actual characters, despite the fact that you never see his face. He’s really the star of the film.
Ken: This fascinating tidbit is something I did not know going in, but now I really want to see if it’s at all possible for me to take in a movie at a video hall. That sounds like a toe tappin’ good time.
Jim: Like you said, it does sometimes have a MST3K-style feel to it, but it’s never cruel or mean-spirited. It pokes fun at itself, but is also suffused in this huge sense of pride in having a local movie, featuring local people.
Ken: The fun is really infectious, isn’t it? You can’t help having a good time. Anyhow, Captain Alex and his stalwart companions lay hands on Richard’s brother after a prolonged shootout. The name of this field op, per the on-screen chyron, is “Operation Cut Tigerz Balls.”
Jim: As Emmie explains, “Only Alex can stop the mafias and kill them forever.”
Ken: This plays out in a hail of fake gunfire and explosions. Every firefight in this movie starts at “The hallway gunfight from The Matrix” and just shoots straight for Mars.
Jim: I was trying to suss out at one point if they had even one actual gun/prop gun on set, or if they were all those weird ones that were bits of wood and tubes taped together. I never came to a solid conclusion, but I did read that it’s Nabwana IGG who does all the effects himself in post. He bought a package of FX explosions, muzzle-flashes and blood splatters, and lord he gets his money worth out of them I can tell you that.
Remember those Nerf guns that shot the yellow foam balls?
Ken: I’m genuinely glad to know that. This is all in service to a film that seems like it has a lot of pumped up action movie influences, but I think the strongest one might be movies like The Raid and other such balls-to-the-wall tactical stuff.
Jim: Emmie certainly seems to be a fan. He likes to just repeat “commando” whenever they’re on screen. Come to think of it, he just sort of does this with everything. Once a minute or so, he just says some combination of “commando,” “tiger mafia” or “soldiers.” That is, of course, broken up by the much more absurd moments, like when some soldiers are watching a singer perform, and Emmie busts out “Sing Dolly Parton! We love Dolly Parton!”
Ken: At one point, a mass martial arts fight breaks out and he explains, “Everyone in Uganda knows kung fu!” That is indeed the internal logic of the movie.
Jim: I like how there seems to have been an imperative to every once in a while remind people of what movie they’re watching, because every 20 minutes or so he explains that you’re watching Who Killed Captain Alex?, a product of Wakaliwood, with VJ Emmie on the EM-EYE-SEE.
They seem very concerned that you will forget the name of the film.
Jim: Anyway. Tell us about Richard, who is ostensibly our villain.
Ken: Richard is well-dressed, well-connected, and angry at everything and everyone. He is a parody of every villain who shoots a messenger or disposes of an underling for cracking the wrong joke at the wrong moment. He also is implied to have several dozen wives, prompting another hearty “THIS IS UGANDA!!” from our stalwart VJ. However, he has a soft spot for his brother, breaking down in tears when he discovers he has been kidnapped. His Tiger Mafia cronies and his wife don’t even want to tell him his brother’s been nabbed.
Jim: He’s a very odd villain, I must say. He’s hysterical and weeping about half the time he’s on screen, and his brother hasn’t even been killed; only abducted, right? He seems like an oddly tender fellow. At one point he says, “My brother is so sweet, and has a beautiful voice.” This is the Big Bad of the film.
Ken: He’s definitely compensating for something. At one point he’s dissatisfied with some of his underlings and just pulls a gun and wastes three of them. His rage truly terrifies his one MVP henchman, a “Russian” merc who wears all red, packs enough firepower to make a rural American nervous, and looks just as Ugandan as everybody else in the cast.
Jim: That guy’s name is “Puffs.” Puffs the Russian.
Ken: We’re never allowed to forget he’s Russian, either! He references it more often than I reference the year I spent abroad. I did tell you about that time, right, Jim?
Jim: In order to target our dear Captain Alex (who is basically a non-character in this, and has almost no characterization), Richard sends in a spy named Vicki who lives in the local village. I think her plan is to seduce him? She’s described as having “nice bums.” Emmie later makes an amazing reference by calling her “Ugandan Mata Hari,” and says “Remember, she’s here to kidnap Alex.”
Ken: Emmie’s cuts are truly deep. I’m not even exaggerating when I say he is a talented riff-man.
Jim: And then the movie makes a sharp, sudden left turn out of nowhere.
Ken: Yes, we’re waiting with baited breath as the Ugandan Mata Hari makes her play. But just as she does, some other violence breaks out on the base camp and somebody guns down Captain Alex. But Jim, it was neither her, nor the other Tiger Mafia interlopers. We really do not know who killed Captain Alex!
VJ Emmie mourns Captain Alex.
Jim: The last thing I was expecting was for the back half of the movie to feature the VILLAIN of the film, furiously trying to find out who killed Captain Alex before he was able to kill Captain Alex.
Ken: And yet that’s really what it amounts to. And, dear readers, here’s the thing: You don’t find out at the end of the movie. At all. Did I miss something Jim, and there was an implied answer? Because I don’t think I did.
Jim: I genuinely have no idea. The last few minutes of the film don’t make a lot of sense, and the question of who killed Alex is never really addressed or solved in them. It plays kind of like the writer forgot about it in the last 10 minutes or so. Obviously, it’s hard to say if this is some kind of standard in Ugandan cinema, seeing as … well, we haven’t seen any other examples.
Ken: It’s clearly not important. What is important is that Nabwana fit in as many stunts and gun battles as possible. It’s at this point in the film we are introduced to Alex’s brother, out for revenge. He’s a master of kung fu, and eager to bust it out on everybody. VJ Emmie’s take: “He is the Ugandan Bruce Lee! Bruce U!”
Jim: He is, Emmie says, “from the Ugandan Shaolin temple.” This is about the point at which I was certain that you would be loving this movie, Ken. This is some A+ Ken material, right here.
Ken: You know me well, sir, but this has something for everyone. I was watching this with my brother, who happens to be a U.S. Marine explosives disposal expert with an Afghanistan deployment under his belt. He laughed at quite a few moments, declared this film “boogaloo as fuck” and gave it a glorious F- grade. We burned through this thing while eating way too much Halloween candy and drinking martinis. I’d say that’s the best possible way to enjoy it outside of a Wakaliga video hall.
Jim: It is interesting to me that despite the fact that it was only intended for Ugandan viewers, not a ton of the humor is rooted in what you’d call “Ugandan culture” or local references; it’s much more inspired by Western action movies for the most part.
Ken: My South American friends often express themselves in Simpsons memes, so a lot of Western culture has penetrated a lot of unexpected places, really. If anything, this should show that brainless, roided-out action fare has global appeal. Nabwana and Emmie are apt pupils, indeed.
Jim: There were only a couple lines of dialog that specifically seemed very specifically Ugandan to me—one, when someone makes a metaphor and says “you think I’ll just sit here and let him eat me like I’m a juicy grasshopper?” And another, when Vicki seems to be trying to seduce Alex, and they keep referring to “beating the rat.” Which I’m assuming has to be a sex aphorism, right?
Ken: One thing about sex aphorisms: You know ‘em when you hear ‘em.
The plot doesn’t really matter much, but it marches toward a final, bullet-typhoon of a showdown with Bruce U and the MPs on one side and Richard and the Tiger Mafia on the other. At one point, Richard deploys a stolen attack chopper to wreak destruction in Kampala. Jim, you deserve the unmatched joy of describing this chopper and its senseless rampage.
Jim: It’s like a sequence in a post-war Japanese sci-fi/flying saucer movie where swarms of alien ships blow up buildings for 10 minutes straight, except instead of them being fairly impressive miniatures, it’s just the same copy-pasted VFX explosion placed atop what may or may not be static shots of random buildings in Kampala.
Ken: This is occasionally broken up with green-screened shots of the pilot sitting in an obviously MS-Painted chopper with “Ugandan Air Force” typed along the side.
Jim: “Ugandan Ghetto Air Force,” according to Emmie.
Ken: In the end, the Tiger Mafia is defeated and Kampala and Wakaliga saved from their tyranny. But Jim, “Who Killed Captain Alex?” We really don’t find out.
Jim: I would like to point out that during the climactic commando raid on the base, we are treated to music that is a muzak version of Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose.” It makes no sense to be there, and plays while commandos are creeping up and snapping necks. There’s also a bit where the commandos sneak past a bunch of what appear to be pelicans, walking around on a lawn, and Emmie coldly intones: “Dinosaurs.” Which I guess is technically true, in an evolutionary sense.
Ken: Readers, we are telling you in all seriousness that Emmie is really good at this. What was your favorite riff, Jim? We’ve got to name ours for posterity, I think.
Jim: I think the part that was making me laugh hardest was when they flash back to one of Richard’s wives being forced to marry him. He says “marry me or die,” and Emmie yells “WELCOME TO UGANDA!” And then as they torture her, he says “She was caught watching Nigerian movies. This is Uganda. We watch Wakaliwood!”
Ken: That one rendered me helpless with laughter. I think my favorite would be when the military police are all gathered around at camp in the wake of Alex’s death. Emmie helpfully points out which one of them is Alex’s successor, a man heartily smoking. Narrating him as one might Dolemite or Shaft, Emmie says “He fights drugs … and uses drugs.”
Jim: That same guy has an actual line of legit dialog—not an Emmie interjection—where he says “We need to attack very early, because I am on vacation and want to go dancing later.” It’s good stuff, Ken. The film doesn’t really “end,” per se—the bad guys get killed, and there’s this random bit where it mentions martial law being declared. Seems like it might have been a sly bit of social commentary by Nabwana IGG, but it’s hard to tell.
Ken: I have to say that this is easily the most fun I’ve had indulging in our tour of bad cinema. It reminds me of Don’t Let The Riverbeast Get You in the sense that it sets realistic ambitions for itself and then finds a way, against all odds, to make it happen.
Jim: That’s probably the most accurate comparison. You end up rooting for the movie, and the people who made it. Did you watch all the way through the credits? There’s some nice behind-the-scenes stuff in there, and then some choice tidbits from Emmie.
Ken: Oh, the credits are one of the best parts of the movie. We are treated to a rap song earnestly and adoringly dedicated to the singer’s grandmother. She was probably there in the video hall when it was aired. Emmie hypes Wakaliwood’s coming attractions, including one movie title he follows with “This movie is a lie.”
Jim: He also invites you to visit him at his video hall in Lugala. I have to quote the full list of films he mentions:
“Wait! Wakaliwood will be back in Ugandan Ninja, Bad Black, Revenge: The Ugandan Ghost Story, Crazy People, Eaten Alive in Uganda, Plan 9 From Uganda, Juba the Snake Girl, Rescue Team, Bukunja Tekunja Mitti: The Cannibals, and Tebaatusasula: Ebola.
The fact that they’re directly referencing Ed Wood, of all people, shows you the sense of humor they have about this.
Ken: Unlike our president, these guys’ cinephile credentials are truly unimpeachable, Jim.
Jim: Maybe someday, when Nabwana IGG gets around to make his long-rumored Captain Alex 2 (he is apparently actually working on this) we can revisit the official sequel.
Ken: I mean this sincerely: I am rooting for him. Jim, is this our first true, full-throated endorsement from Bad Movie Diaries?
Jim: This and River Beast. It’s enough to overlook the fact that for half of this film, there’s a persistent, visible spot of dirt or mud on the lens in every other shot.
Ken: I’m pleased to say I didn’t even notice.
Jim, I suppose we both know and dread what’s coming next month. We’ve been to Uganda this year, but are you ready to adorn your passport with another Aldovia stamp this coming Christmas season?
Jim: If it means I get to keep discovering stuff like Who Killed Captain Alex?, I guess I can put up with at least one more A Christmas Prince.
Ken: Let’s hope for a 2020 with more of the former than the latter. Until next time, sir.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer, and you can follow him on Twitter. Kenneth Lowe is a contributing writer for Paste, and you can read more of his writing at his blog.