Imoh Umoren’s fifth feature film Club is not bad. And it’s not a good one, either. Before going to watch Club, I kept thinking of Nancy Isime’s horribly cliché lines in the terminal shots of the trailer, where she points a gun at a knife-wielding Baaj Adebule in the titular club. What I feared, mostly, was that that clunky act was only a slice of the entire movie.
Contrary to what that’s been gloriously written before its release, Club isn’t “action packed” or “adrenaline-pumping,” but it’s interesting enough to merely stoke your curiosity. “You need to have a budget for area boys when filming in Lagos,” Umoren said to Nollywood Film Hub in a recent interview. While that may be true, Club is steadily insular and yet expository, drawing you into a treacherous world of drugs, sex, money and power.
It’s also the story of Pam. Played by Nancy Isime, Pam is the stripper manager slash hyper-capable lieutenant working in this high-profile night club. (the trailer sold her to us as some sort of assassin but whatever). And oops, she has a gun. A gun. I already told you that the world of Club is treacherous!
Pam first jumps into our faces with a voiceover, which unspools as a commentary on Nigeria’s present social condition. It doesn’t exclude her, though. She’s a victim of circumstance, trying to raise N6.7 million for her ailing father’s surgery. Her boss (Kelechi Udegbe), who everyone addresses as Mr. X, is a bubbly, loquacious character but with a mean eye on the club’s finances. Which is, in no small part, buoyed by the club’s veiled, stripper-sex work trade.
Pam is like, well, badass? Her hair is in a pixie cut, and she wears a black biker jacket throughout the movie that in one scene, her father indifferently calls her a boy. As the movie’s solitary female lead, Isime isn’t viscerally convincing as Pam. It’s like watching the anodyne Halle Berry massacre Catwoman, which is just indicative of a cheesily bad script. Club doesn’t soar because the writing is flat and lackluster. Pam teases us with breaking the fourth wall which serves no purpose, often speaks in a dissonant drawl, and habitually smokes because, hey, this is what fictional bad women do.
There’s a sense that Club is supposed to be a grand, spectacular entry in Imoren’s oeuvre, made to be fun, smart, and gleefully violent. But it doesn’t feel that way. Implanted in Club is a heist that Pam imperceptibly sets in motion. Although it’s been mentioned before, we don’t see it coming because the heist plan is massaged into a highly pivotal murder at the club – the death of Pam’s favourite stripper.
It becomes a mystery murder case, and this is where Club shines. There’s a shocking revelation about the heist (which I won’t spoil) as the film reaches a crescendo. In the theatre, I had expected an eruption of gasps and reactions and cheering but there was a palpable mass disinterest. The film’s big moment didn’t have any reception. Was everyone bored or sleeping? Or had they fallen off their seats?
I would like to think that this wasn’t the case in other theatres. But then, can you blame them? As a thriller, Club isn’t wound tighter, and it doesn’t pack that punch to leave you in awe. Pam never shoots a bullet out of the gun she brandishes so much. But she commits puppy murder, a lá John Wick, and, twenty two hours later, I’m still wondering where she buried the dog.