I know that this is going to get me crucified, but before you form an angry mob and pitchfork me to death, let me ask you a question. When’s the last time that a Leon Schuster movie really, really made you laugh? For me, that was way back in 1996, when he unleashed one politically charged bombshell of a film.
That film, was Panic Mechanic.
And it’s a film that works on so many levels. I was just a kid when I watched back then, still wet behind the ears and oblivious to any sub-text that was present. With that in mind, the slapstick in this film was fantastic. You’ve got classic Schuster at his trolling best here, as he almost gets murdered in Afrikaner central with a tax on pigs, to his genius take on taxi. And of course, the prepared visual gags. Jokes like a waiter being blown apart by overzealous gun owners, the bicycle protection kit from hell and a minister for transport that was seriously in need of some laughter medication. I loved ’em.
Sure, there’s a story here about how a corrupt businessman is using Microsoft Word 1995 to defraud the government, and yes, it’s pure hyena dung. But you know what? I don’t care. At least the rest of the cast didn’t, and the performances spoke for themselves in the usual cheesy way that our actors applied their trade more than a decade ago. And of course, the late great Tolla Van De Merwe was on form here, as a gruff police cop with a heart of gold. And a hatred for paperwork. One leg, on pave…ment.
But what I dig is just how damn funny the inside jokes are in this film. You just can’t understand the majority of them if you aren’t South African or clued up on our history. Seeing FW De Klerk waste time playing golf, trying to understand why a taxi driver is using a garage tool to steer a vehicle and the whole high-fiving aspect of saying hello to Jack Paddaman. Brilliant stuff when you finally get it. Hell, my one favourite scene in the beginning has to be the role reversal between white and black, because finally, white guys had rhythm.
To me, Panic Mechanic is the best of Schuster. The best gags from his early years, and better storytelling that leaned closer to his UNTAG days, than it did to his period making Mama Jack. And it’s a movie that I’ll still laugh at ten years from now, probably.
Last Updated: April 24, 2013