November 2, 2021
The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)
Grade: 60/100

Director: Jamie Uys
Stars: N!xau, Marius Weyers, Sandra Prinsloo

What it's about. A feel-good comedy set in southern Africa. Four plotlines seem unrelated at first, but eventually overlap. Plot #1 features Xi (N!xau), a Bushman who purportedly has never seen a white man nor ventured outside his small tribe. One day, a plastic Coke bottle is tossed from a plane into Xi's tribe. The bottle proves useful, and is soon the subject of fights for possession within the tribe. Xi concludes the bottle is evil, and decides to carry it to the end of the Earth and throw it into the abyss.

Plot #2 concerns Andrew Steyn (Marius Weyers), a brawny white jungle ranger sometimes accompanied by black mechanic Mpudi (Michael Thys). Plot #3 involves Kate Thompson (Sandra Prinsloo), a Johannesburg newspaper reporter who tires of city life and decides to take a job as a schoolteacher in a rural black grade school. Plot #4 is about guerilla junta leader Sam Boga (Louw Verwey), who seeks to overthrow Namibia.

We are not surprised when Andrew Steyn eventually encounters Kate Thompson, and is predictably attracted to the single young woman. But he is so nervous around women that he becomes hopelessly clumsy and accident prone. Meanwhile, Xi is still walking across Africa, and is jailed for poaching game. His case comes to the attention of Steyn, who bails him out and employs him as a tracker.

Sam Boga is pursued by government troops, and the desperate outlaw and his gunmen take Thompson and her class hostage. Because it is a movie, both gunmen and hostages go on a long hike toward the border. They pass near Steyn, Mpudi, and Xi, who prove heroic in capturing Boga's men and rescuing Thompson.

How others will see it. The Gods Must Be Crazy was a surprise international hit. It played for years in some theaters. Critics were also pleased. It was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Cesar Awards in France, even though it was clearly a South African production during a time when that nation was a pariah for its Apartheid policies.

Not everyone thought the movie was great, though. The Stinkers nominated it for Worst Picture, "losing" to the costly dud Dune (1964).

Despite the film's spectacular success, N!xau was reportedly paid only a few thousand dollars. But he appeared in all four sequels, the only actor to do so. The final sequel was set in China, where he reportedly made several Kung Fu movies. Alas, he died in 2003, at the age of 58.

Today at, The Gods Must Be Crazy has 54K user votes, a high total for a film starring a Bushman. The user ratings are fairly high at 7.3 out of 10, with no consequential demographic spread. The user reviews are mostly positive, though some regard the guerilla versus army scenes as racist, others doubt that Xi's tribe was completely oblivious of civilization as late as 1980, and some point out the film's technical problems with dubbing and editing.

How I felt about it. Most of the Sam Boga subplot feels out of place. This is especially the case when a Namibian cabinet meeting is interrupted by armed gunmen, resulting in multiple casualties. This is a comedy? The Boga story is relevant only once he abducts Thompson, which obligates Steyn and N!xau to rise to the occasion.

It also seems patronizing that an all-black school has a white teacher-administrator.

Everyone is charmed, though, by the naive and good-hearted Xi, who simply wants to rid the world of the "evil" Coke bottle. Weyers physical comedy (as Steyn) is entertaining, and sometimes hilarious, particularly his scene at the school with the class as a laugh track. Ultimately, the feel-good nature of the movie cannot be denied.