WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX? (2010) Transcends

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Who Killed Captain Alex? is a miracle, no two ways about it, and that makes it almost unreviewable, at least by me. Originating from Ugandan director Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffry’s “Wakaliwood” production studio, created on a budget of less than $200, a one month shooting schedule where – because of limited access to electricity – they could only shoot three days a week, and without any outside professional input; Who Killed Captain Alex? is unlike any other movie I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the most enjoyable movies ever made.

WKCA? follows the story of a war in Uganda between Ugandan Commandos, led by Captain Alex (Kakule William); and the criminal Tiger Mafia. When the commandos successfully capture the brother of the Mafia leader (Sserunya Ernest), it starts a cycle of vengeance that threatens the safety of Kampala (Capital of Uganda). Also, there is a lot of Kung Fu.

By almost every conceivable metric, Who Killed Captain Alex? should be awful. The plot is threadbare, throwing characters in without much backstory and giving very few of them closure. Actors give stunted performances and look directly into the camera. Visual effects are clearly made on no budget by people with very little experience. The most striking part of the soundtrack is a MIDI cover of “Kiss From a Rose” that pops up multiple times, often lending a strong tonal dissonance with the rest of the scene. But there are two things that make all of that completely irrelevant.

The first is the raw energy and passion that every person involved in the production has for filmmaking. Who Killed Captain Alex? is a love letter to American action films of the 80’s and 90’s, and in attempting to match their bombast, throws away all notions of traditional action blocking and rhythm to find its own completely unique energy. Not all of the action scenes really work, but there are moments that completely engrossed me. There’s a tracking shot early in the movie that follows a commando as he runs through tall grass that conveyed a sense of momentum that I seriously haven’t experienced in a film since Fury Road. Wakaliwood has tapped into a well-spring of inspiration that only exists where you are forced to make your own rules.

Who Killed Captain Alex? also has – no joke – some of my favorite martial arts scenes in recent history. The character of Alex’s Brother, played by Bukenya Charles, is called “The Ugandan Bruce Lee – Bruce U” in the movie, and he earns the title. So many of his fight scenes are full body shots, shown without any cuts in the action, that really lets us see this guy’s full range of motion as he delivers countless ass-kickings. It also works so well because it’s so clearly authentic. Every actor in the movie in a fight scene can clearly actually do Kung Fu, or at least a cinematic approximation of it.

The second thing that makes Who Killed Captain Alex? legitimately, ironically, one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve ever watched, is VJ Emmie. A part of African movie culture, the VJ – Video Joker – is a person who provides live commentary over the movie being watched. The immediate comparison is something like Mystery Science Theater 3000, but the VJ also provides the valuable service of filling most of the movie in for the audience – providing a lot of the backstory, motivation, and context, that the movie itself lacks, and also acts a hype man. And VJ Emmie is hilarious, providing so much of the self-aware comedy that really takes Who Killed Captain Alex? to an irreproachable level. Slower, quieter scenes of the movie are lightened up by Emmie’s running comedic commentary, while action scenes are dominated by exclamations of “Supa Action!” and “Everybody in Uganda knows Kung Fu!.” In many ways, VJ Emmie fills in all the parts of cinematic language that Wakaliwood really can’t afford otherwise. He’s there to play up the spectacle of the action scenes, tip a lampshade towards the clearly ad-hoc’d parts of the narrative and production, and bold-facedly proclaim the genius of Wakaliwood’s vision.

The real miracle of Wakaliwood is how they make every moment you think you’re laughing at them a moment you’re laughing with them. Their love and passion for film radiates out of every second of the movie, and becomes utterly infectious. Who Killed Captain Alex? is undeniably rough around the edges, and made mostly of rough edges, but at its core is an understanding of what makes movies magical that transcends the many flaws in its production. Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffry is definitely a name to keep an ear out for.