Oka!

Film
3 out of 5 stars
Oka!

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Many of us have laid idle on our parents' couch, blasting tunes, invoking mom's ire ("Turn that noise down!") and wishing to high heaven we were somewhere else. The difference between the usual slacker and New Jersey ethnomusicologist Larry (Marshall, who looks like the bastard progeny of Tom Noonan and Rainn Wilson) is that he actually makes good on the get-up-and-go.

After a brief tristate-area prologue---during which Larry is scolded by mama, psychically summoned overseas and told he has a bum liver---the lanky hero of Lavinia Currier's lush anthropologic melodrama makes his way to the Central African home of the Bayaka Pygmies. He's visited before, and this time hopes to record one of the tribe's rare, mythical instruments. But the music man's quest is hampered by a greedy local mayor (De Bankol) who wants to steal the Bayaka's land and sell it to developers.

It's the old enlightened environmentalist versus avaricious capitalist routine. But credit is due to Currier (Passion in the Desert) for eventually treating the plot like the deadweight it is. As the film's forest-set third act proves, she'd rather luxuriate in the verdant African landscapes (nicely photographed by Conrad W. Hall) and allow the supporting cast, many of whom are actual Bayaka tribe members, to take center stage over her grating star. That the filmmaker at least makes a concerted effort to tweak what in most hands would be an offensively whitewashed dark-continent parable is worth some measure of praise.

Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich

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