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VIVA RIVA! – The Review

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A gangster film set in the Congo about violence, greed, corrupt military officials, and romance, VIVA RIVA! is the first film from the Democratic Republic of Congo to play U.S. theaters and it turns out to be a solid crime drama. Its derivative plot is inspired by 70’s Blaxploitation but it’s from a fresh and interesting part of the world and easy to take as rollicking homicidal entertainment. This story of a gasoline pirate is presented with a bold and stylish approach with a depiction of violence that recalls such films as Alejandro Innaritu’s impressive Mexican 2000 feature debut, AMMORES PERROS (Life is a Bitch”), and the Brazilian epic CITY OF GOD (2003). Riva (Patsha Bay) is a confident smalltime hustler who arrives in his home town of Kinshasa with a truck full of precious gasoline, a rare commodity and one worth killing over. He’s swindled the fuel from a cabal of Angolan gangsters led by the foppish but scary Cesar (Hoji Fortuna) who are after him and leaving a bloody trail in their wake. Riva spots the beautiful Nora (French model Manie Malone), at a nightclub and falls madly in love after watching her pee (eeewwww! – I guess it’s a cultural thing). Nora is the pampered mistress of local crime kingpin Azor (Diplome Amekindra) who doesn’t take well to Riva stealing his woman. Riva uses his charm and wits to avoid a beatdown, or worse, from his pursuers.

Written and directed by Djo Munga, VIVA RIVA! is polished and dynamic with authentic, dilapidated locales that make for a sweltering yet exotic environment. It borrows liberally from American gangster films such as SCARFACE, presenting stock crime characters — rival crime bosses, a dangerous moll, a tough antihero, who all hop from gun battles to fistfights to explicit sex scenes. VIVA RIVA! delivers fast-paced rough excitement with its own blunt style but don’t go in expecting high art or social commentary. It’s brutal and simplistic exploitation with a screenplay that rarely rises above the conventional. Riva is a hood who is as charming as he is immoral, and Patsha Bay plays him with a light hearted attitude which doesn’t make a lot of sense considering how much danger he’s in throughout most of the film, but he seems to be having fun in the same way Fred Williamson of Jim Brown might have 40 years ago.

3 1/2 of 5 Stars

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