In some ways, Leon Schuster is synonymous with classic South African comedy. Despite playing on racial stereotypes, Schuster charmed audiences who enjoyed seeing the strange and hilarious reactions of their fellow countrymen. Unfortunately, Schuks has lost its originality and charm, becoming almost painful to watch.
Returning to his roots, Schuks! Your Country Needs You is based solely on candid camera. There is a tenuous story as Schuks (Schuster) feels that he is too old to make another candid camera movie, despite Shorty’s (Alfred Ntombela) encouragement; Shorty keeps telling Schuks that his country needs him to make them laugh. Wayne (Rob van Vuuren), Schuks’ son, hopes to “take the klaps” for Schuks and prove his worth to his dad. Along the way, they prank Sammy (Laré Birk) and she later becomes part of their crew. Together, they will make one last candid camera movie.
Despite the new and young blood, most of the gags feel tired and forced. Even the reactions from victims elicit the wrong emotions in the viewer. I felt genuinely sorry for the woman who chose to pray with Wayne after he broke her phone – how could they tell her it was all just a prank? I even felt bad for Peter de Villiers, former SA Rugby coach, as he fell for a gag involving a job offer from Japan. Rather than bringing out that strangely delicious sublime feeling of laughing at someone else’s misfortune, Schuks! Your Country Needs You left me bored and a little uncomfortable.
Schuks even fulfills his greatest wish – he pulls a gag on an entire community. Posing as an ANC official, he convinces the attendees of a community meeting that they will be running a sewage pipe where their homes currently stand. The community becomes outraged as expected, and yet this gag does not seem entertaining. Perhaps it is because South African politicians are already a parody of themselves, yet Schuks’ portrayal does nothing to highlight or satirize. Instead, viewers shift uncomfortably in their seats watching an entire community led into emotional turmoil in the hopes of a laugh.
With a minimal plot and many gags that simply fell flat, the movie lacked any sense of arc or flow. Instead of building the story towards a natural climax, it seemed as though Schuster was grasping at straws, trying to find anything that might actually be funny. It was like watching an old man try to reclaim his youth – you know he will fail and the attempts will just be embarrassing. The 97 minutes passed without any sense of pacing or excitement. Perhaps the climax was meant to be the community prank, but it ended up feeling like a longer failed joke amid a range of others.
There are moments that do show a spark of former humor. When Sammy plays a ghost emerging from a coffin that victims are meant to be guarding, some of those reactions are priceless and funny – this was one of the few times that I actually laughed. Unfortunately, they are mixed with other reactions to that same gag that are emotional and very real. This certainly tempers the humor.
In the end, I couldn’t help but wonder why Schuster had made this film at all. During the press junket, he explained how difficult it was to actually make this film – too many people recognize him and spoil the gags. If it is so tough to make these candid camera films (and for the audience to watch them), why is he carrying on in this vein? Well, here’s his answer:
Maybe this country does need to laugh. Unfortunately, Schuks! Your Country Needs You is not the film to make it happen. Perhaps younger kids will enjoy some of the more slapstick humor, so if you really need to watch a movie with the whole family over the holidays, you can sit through this for an hour and a half and show your children how funny people look when surprised.
Last Updated: November 25, 2013