Setting aside the opening credits begin over sixteen minutes into the movie, it’s rather rare for such a predictable genre exercise to also successfully capitalize on its own limitations and campiness. While we get as much substance out of any of Steven Seagal’s current output, Renaldo Kell manages to make his tried content consistently interesting, whether by intention or not—swirls of stilted dialogue and bargain action fodder—makes for a wild ride. While I was never surprised by any direction that the filmmakers took through the feature, The Bush Knife thoroughly entertains despite its major production pitfalls and non-existent characterization.
William Singh (Bruce Gounder) was living peacefully with his wife (Angela Val Verde) and daughters Kerry (Yarushka Singh) and Kathy (Livania Carnello) when a local gangster known as the Skull (Ryan Mayne) descends on them, killing his wife and kidnapping his children. William dones the persona of the Bush Knife, a dual-wielding vengeance-seeking vigilante, seemingly the only one with the connections and resolve to bring down the murdering kingpin. Assisted by Detectives Rome (Jerome Naidu) and Michelle (Nerissa Reddy), the Bush Knife carves a bloody path to get to his family, all the while pushing himself to his very limits. Meanwhile, the Skull is leading his gang to a takeover of the city—at least that is what I could glean from this fever dream of action cliches passing itself off as a plot.
“… a local gangster known as the Skull descends on them, killing his wife and kidnapping his children.”
The film is consistently a mess of out-of-focus shot compositions that always seem to hang a tad too low (cutting off most actor’s foreheads), a cacophony of terrible sound work, and a veritable avalanche of chewing scenery and mugging for the camera. These aspects burden the editing (for which there is no credited editor), which results in a janked-up jumble of a journey that struggles to maintain rhythm or a consistent continuity throughout. While the villains have as much depth as a kiddie pool with a massive leak, they all seem to delight in their roles, always striving to be the boldest baddie in the room. Skull’s motivations do not make a lick of sense after the second act, while he still manages to grandstand and monologue, especially in scenes which do not call for either.
However, even with all of these bogged down elements (including a set of three different inconsequential dancing scenes, one being a four-minute striptease), the film is highly entertaining at every turn. What would have been simple and weakly choreographed fight scenes, evolved into a procession of logic-defying tumbles over every played trope in the book—and it’s glorious. Resultedly, it’s obvious that the amount of energy that each of the principal cast pour into their screen time was significant, even if their end result often doesn’t make a lot of contextual sense. I will say that Sandile Dlamini, who played the Chief of Police, was absolutely the strongest actor of the cast, and seemed so deep into his role, that he genuinely pulls off a convincing and enraptured performance (no camp to be found). Ultimately, you can enjoy the ride if you are not looking for anything besides a South African twist on generic action movie making because that’s what we’ve got.
“…a swamp of everything wrong with action movies, but it makes every cheesed-up moment well worth an investment.”
In the end, what makes the whole journey somehow blend together is the weird mesh of music provided by Solodeep – a vortex of bland music stingers, pop ballads, and grungy instrumentals fade in and out at will, sometimes with little to do with the scene currently taking place. These sounds are perfectly emblematic of the whole cinematic experience, and while we can accurately (and easily) expect every turn the movie takes, you’ll still be bewildered and bemused by the whole trip. The Bush Knife is a swamp of everything wrong with action movies, but it makes every cheesed-up moment well worth an investment.
The Bush Knife (2018) Directed by Renaldo Kell. Written by Renaldo Kell. Starring Bruce Gounder, Ryan Mayne, Jerome Naidu, Yarushka Singh, Livania Carnello.
5 out of 10