“Viva Riva” feels a bit like a Quentin Tarantino film, set in the Republic of the Congo, starring Dwyane Wade.
Well, maybe not a Tarantino film. Maybe a Tarantino knockoff, like so many of the films that were made in the late ’90s, after QT hit it big with “Pulp Fiction.” It doesn’t have the structural creativity, dark humor, or obsessive fascination with films from the ’70s that mark Tarantino’s work. It does, however, have the pleasantly shambling pace, a large and engaging cast, and a clear sense of style.
And the fact that the protagonist, played by Congolese actor Patsha Bay, looks alarmingly like the Miami Heat scoring guard, just makes it all that much more fun. If you’ve ever considered Wade a thug and a gangster who managed a breathtaking heist that simultaneously painted a target on his back and made him rich enough to do whatever he wanted, this movie is for you.
Of course, in “Viva Riva,” it’s a truckload of gas, and not LeBron James, that gets stolen. Riva arrives back in Kinshasa, his hometown, having stolen the gas from a ganster who dresses all in white and loves scarves despite the heat. He stashes the gas, waiting for gas prices to go up even more — he’s rich now, but he’ll be even richer tomorrow — and sets about seducing the least available woman in Kinshasa; she’s the property of the city’s most powerful gangster. This guy just can’t buy enough trouble.
Because it’s set in a sprawling 3rd world city and it’s about gangsters and crime, “Viva Riva” bears comparisons to one of my favorite movies, “City of God.” But the comparison just shows how unique and masterful a movie “City of God” is; this one’s certainly entertaining, but doesn’t have the range, scope, depth or intensity of that movie. It’s a fun ride, but really isn’t anything more than a movie about guns, women and gangsters. Which isn’t a bad thing. It’s pretty darn entertaining flick.
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