Mama Jack

2006-04-30 13:20


Jack Theron (Leon Schuster) is his own worst enemy. He may be a nice guy, but his tendency to clown around has always held him back in his career in film. In fact Jack's antics infuriate American director John (Lionel Newton) so much that he decides to get rid of him by spiking his drink at an official function. Jack causes such mayhem in his drugged up state that he finds himself on the run from the police.

Luckily his friend Shorty, a professional make-up artist, has a plan to help him evade capture - he will be disguised as a black lady named Mama. Then, in a case of mistaken identity, "Mama" finds "herself" employed as a housekeeper for an American woman named Angela. Jack considers fleeing the city before things get worse, until he discovers that Angela's fiance is his archenemy John. Now Jack has the perfect opportunity for a little payback and maybe even a chance to clear his name.


It would be easy to write Mama Jack off as just another Leon Schuster special, a product of the same broad slapstick-and-schmaltz formula that has made him South Africa's most successful filmmaker. To do so, however, would be both overly simplistic and deeply unfair.

Mama Jack represents Schuster's most ambitious project to date - in terms of both storyline and production. It is also probably the most positive film he has ever made - a celebration of new South Africa optimism that even Schuster's most vehement critics can't dismiss.

This is not to say that Mama Jack doesn't have plenty of the trademark slapstick and toilet humour that have drawn the crowds all these years. Call it crass, or call it populist - Schuster is still well aware of what sells.

However even these knockabout sequences have a new vigour and originality to them. Gone are the haphazard candid camera style pranks, and in their place are carefully choreographed gags. Granted one or two are utterly stomach churning (the scene involving a portable toilet is particularly bad), and a few others don't quite gel, but even the most po-faced viewers will be hard pressed not to chuckle at least once.

Another ambitious aspect of the film is its seamless integration with computer-generated imagery. Jack's drug induced trip is particularly impressive, recalling the darkly psychedelic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In fact the quality of the effects is such that the scene may even prove too realistic for some, and parents of younger children should be aware that it may provoke nightmares.

As good as the CGI is, it is eclipsed by the technical virtuosity of the makeup. Schuster's transformation into black woman is remarkably convincing, easily matching and outdoing big budget Hollywood's efforts on films like Big Momma's House.

Where Mama Jack falls down is in characterisation - an area in which Schuster has always been weak. He has a fine cast at his disposal, but his tendency to reduce supporting characters to ciphers leaves them with little room to move. Lionel Newton's character suffers particularly badly under the yoke of "evil yank director", and Newton resorts to over acting in an attempt to breathe some life into the part.

Mary-Anne Barlow and Jerry Mofokeng both make the most out of their parts, but they are also hampered by the limitations of the script. This two-dimensionality is largely unimportant in the rough-and-tumble of the humorous sequences, but it becomes glaringly apparent in the romantic sub-plot. The gooey love story may be endearing but it's simply not believable, even by the low standards of other romantic comedies, and as such it rings hollow.

The one character that is fully formed - Jack Theron - is really a composite of all Schuster's previous roles. You get the distinct feeling that much of Schuster himself comes across in the role, and this gives the character the distinct advantages of vulnerability and believability.
All technical and artistic concerns aside, Mama Jack deserves praise for its positive attitude to South Africa. Where many of Schuster's earlier films dwelt on negative stereotypes like crime, Mama Jack celebrates our new democracy. Instead of finding humour in our differences, our paranoia and our insularity Schuster has begun finding laughter at what binds us together. His methods may sometimes be clumsy and condescending, but at least he makes the attempt.

You could argue that Schuster's films are, at their heart, a barometer of South Africa's national mood. You could argue that Schuster isn't a new South African at heart, that he is shrewd operator who goes with the flow and that racism and provincialism are now outmoded. Those arguments are all rather cynical and simplistic, but even if they were true, Mama Jack should still be welcomed with open arms. As a barometer of our national mood we could do far worse.

- Alistair Fairweather

Leon Schuster's latest slapstick comedy is his most ambitious and most positive film in years.

Brumilda 2005/11/25 1:20 PM
Mama Jack ! Best Movie from Leon in Years, it is really hillarious and even the most sour person will have to try hard not to laugh out even once! Worth the time to look at!
Hannetjie 2005/11/25 2:10 PM
Mama Jack Definitely better than Mr Bones! A great movie. Thanks Leon!!!
kommie 2005/11/25 5:53 PM
Mamma artale fghm
Rita Hattingh 2005/11/27 9:33 AM
mev Ek het hierdie fliek van Leon Saterdag gaan kyk. Dit is die beste van hom wat ek nog gesien het. Ek sit vandag nog steeds en lag oor alles. Het my kinders onmiddellik gebel en gesê hulle moet dit gaan kyk. Ek en 'n paar vriendinne gaan dit weer kyk. Leon weereens het jy jouself oortref. Begin solank dink aan nog een. Ek gaan end Desember London toe na my seun en wil baie graag vir hom 'n DVD saam neem. Gaan dit dan al beskikbaar wees? Ek dink die Suid Afrikaanse Londers sal so 'n fliek werklik baie geniet. Mama Jack
domingos 2005/11/27 11:30 AM
mr excellant taste of comedian fit the foot shoe bases yes
Andries 2005/11/27 12:16 PM
Mama Jack The family love it Yes. Add humor
Letitia 2005/11/28 2:43 PM
AMAZING One of his best ever!!! Mr.Bones is my favourite Mr.Bones
Patsy 2005/12/07 12:47 PM
Mama Jack Leon Schuster's best movie ever!! Filled with sharp comeback lines and bright ideas for plots. I would defnitely recommend this movie for anyone who needs a laugh!! Legend of Zorro
os 2006/03/23 8:02 PM
kjhbhb jgvhjbkjko mamma jack
Dale Warburton 2007/05/14 4:27 PM
Appalling The film represents everything that is wrong with South African films and the audiences who flock to watch it -thoughtless and entirely insulting to think that a) people find it funny and b) that it is made by a South African
Bradd 2007/05/17 10:43 AM
Ermmm Yeah.... sorry but why do people always have to find fault with everything, this movie is colourful light hearted n sends out a good messga,e stop complaining n just live a little
maluleke sipho 2008/11/20 9:21 PM
mr im very much sorry to be out of order, is just that i've got a barden of acting burning on me. MR schuster i realy need your on these matter. is been so long writting and acting dramas on the streets. So i feel so blessed to have your e-mail adress, so that you can help me achieve my goals. pls help anyway & may god bles you
maluleke sipho 2008/11/20 9:24 PM
mr im very much sorry to be out of order, is just that i've got a barden of acting burning on me. MR schuster i realy need your on these matter. is been so long writting and acting dramas on the streets. So i feel so blessed to have your e-mail adress, so that you can help me achieve my goals. pls help anyway & may god bles you
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