This week I happened upon two of Sophie Okonedo’s earliest on-screen appearances, in two very different pieces:
First up was Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995), which saw Jim Carrey reprising his break-out role to diminishing returns (creatively and comedically, I mean… box-office-wise it was a huge hit). Personally, I rather like the idea behind the character… a Sherlockian super-sleuth who’s chosen to pursue only animal-related cases… and Carrey is a very compelling performer… but this is a prime example of a sequel that takes all the off-beat, surprising elements of the first film and runs them into the ground, turning everything into a tired catchphrase. The choice of setting is also rather troubling: In the first flick, a lot of the comedy came from seeing Ace acting like a crazy a-hole in a (relatively) realistic modern setting, where everyone bar him and the villain were fairly normal… whereas here, he’s being a crazy a-hole in a stereotypical and dated cartoon of Africa, where two wacky tribes are fighting over a sacred, stolen bat… which was in fact purloined by (SPOILER!!!) a conniving bunch of foreign hunters straight out of a dog-eared Tarzan novel! Meh. Okonedo plays the unnamed Wachati Princess, whose sole function is to look cute and flirt with Ace… first by dancing seductively towards him, then by flashing her naked, virginal body (off-screen), and begging him to teach her the ways of love. On paper it’s a pretty unrewarding role for any young actress, but Okonedo still manages to shine, thanks to her impish smile and cheery charms. Bless her.
Next up was Lynda La Plante’s The Governor (1995-6), which starred Janet McTeer as ‘Helen Hewitt’, an ambitious young prison administrator who gets fast-tracked to take over as the new guv’nor of an all-male, high-security prison, following a wide-scale riot/fire sparked by the suicide (or was it murder…?) of a despised sex-offender. I picked up the feature-length first episode on DVD, after spotting the title on Okonedo’s resume, but she doesn’t actually appear here until about halfway through, and only has one brief scene where she chats with Hewitt while interviewing for a secretarial job. Clearly her character gets hired, because she recurs in all of the subsequent episodes… but I don’t think I can bring myself to sit through any more of this tripe, to find out what how gets on. In theory I should be interested in seeing a feisty woman toughing it out and proving herself in such a male-dominated environment/profession… but Hewitt’s far too unsympathetic to really invest in, and many of the problems she encounters after taking the job are entirely of her own making. I mean, I get that she wanted to make an impression and prove that she wasn’t a pushover from the get-go… but why try to implement all of her new initiatives in the first few days? Why not roll them out gradually, over the weeks and months to come, after building up the trust and support of her staff?
And the mystery over who killed the inmate is resolved far too quickly and easily, when the guilty parties simply decide to confess their crimes to her, without any prompting… just so that everything can be neatly wrapped up by the time the credits roll! The setting and subject matter may be extremely grim and “gritty”, but the acting and dialogue were pretty laughable, overall. I was particularly amused by the way the characters repeatedly referred to the movie Basic Instinct as “Sharon Stone”, as if that were its full title, rather than the name of the lead actress. I assume they couldn’t afford the rights to use the real title, but it’s a pretty counter-productive cost-saving measure, if you ask me…