Just in time – as he has managed to land an EMT job and is on to bigger and better things – Conor pulled one of the most famous obscure films out of the vault – The Gods Must Be Crazy, a 1980 South African film directed by Jamie Uys which didn’t find a release in the United States until 1984.

I do actually remember watching the film once when I was a kid – it was a bit of a cult thing, so that fact kind of surprises me.  At any rate I didn’t remember anything about it outside of the Coke bottle and the African tribesmen, so I figure it probably was time to watch it again.

The story is relatively simple – take four characters (well, three characters and a group of easily-defined villains) and set them up on a collision course for wackiness!

I will take the bottle, though I do not know the way.

We’ll start with Xi.  Xi is a San tribesman living in the Kalahari in Botswana.  Xi’s tribe is completely primitive, with no knowledge of outside peoples or technology, until a glass coke bottle thrown from a plane is found.  Due to its hardness (apparently this thing is made of diamond, because it gets subjected to some pretty serious abuse without breaking!) it immediately becomes the single-most important tool of the tribe, and it is believed to have been a gift from the gods.  However, this causes a lot of strife in the tribe as they have previously held all goods in common and the Coke bottle is the only tool which is scarce and cannot be duplicated as needed.  Eventually Xi decides that the gods have erred in giving this tool to them, and resolves to give it back.  However, throwing it back up into the sky to the gods does not work, nor does burial (it gets unearthed by some animal or other) and Xi realizes that his only hope is to take it to the end of the earth and throw it off.

Oh, sod it!  I can’t take this anymore!  I wanted to be…a LUMBERJACK!

Kate Thompson is a South African who, trying to escape the rat race of the big city (perhaps Johannesburg but I don’t think that is explicitly clarified), decides to ditch it all and take on a job as a village schoolteacher in Botswana.

Brakes?  Where we’re going, we don’t NEED brakes!

Andrew Steyn is a dung researcher living in the wilderness of Botswana who has a severe case of fumble-everything anytime he’s around a woman.

As you might have guessed, he’s single.

This would be the ULTIMATE time for the whole “banana in the tailpipe” gag

And of course, no movie would be complete without a fleeing group of madcap rebels who have just failed in a bloody coup attempt in an indistinct African country that is not Botswana.

And so, with shades of the Benny Hill show (much of the chase action and people-doing-stuff-without-dialogue is mercifully sped up, and also mercifully devoid of the obligatory Yackety-Sax soundtrack so you get to add it in yourself) the movie brings these characters together.  Steyn, being in possession of perhaps the only working vehicle in a 10,000 square mile area, is asked to fetch the new schoolteacher Kate from the (distant) nearest bus stop.  The lack of brakes on the Land Rover, his complete inability to act normally in the presence of a woman, and her issues in using the Bush as a changing room lead to some wacky misadventures, including the accidental winching of the Land Rover into a tree.

Steyn manages to deliver Kate to the schoolroom, but not before they first encounter Xi, who, thinking they might actually be gods, tries to get them to take back the bottle.  Despite the fact that he doesn’t even ask for the CRV, they don’t take it (due of course to the communication barrier) and Xi leaves them, continuing on his quest to find the edge of the world.

Failing to understand more capitalistic concepts like “this goat is my property”, Xi shoots a herdsman’s animal with a tranquilizer dart and offers to share the proceeds of the meal with the herdsman, only to find himself thrown into a ramshackle jail, where he is put on trial for the theft.  The only available translator is provided – a man who also just happens to be sort of a Man Friday for Steyn.  When Xi is convicted and heartlessly sentenced to a prison term, Steyn believes he will die in the alien confines of his captivity and manages to get him out on a work-release program.  It’s a real nudge-nudge, wink-wink sort of thing, but Steyn does follow the letter of the law.

Around this time, the failed coup rebels storm into Kate’s classroom and with the military authorities hot on their tails take Kate and all the children hostage, forcing them on a long march through the wilderness and demanding passage and regular food and water drops from the authorities in exchange for the safety of the children.  However, their estimates that the children ought to be able to go 20 miles per march was a bit optimistic, and eventually they have to send one older child out to attempt to signal the authorities to increase the frequency of the supply drops.

Coincidentally, our intrepid dung hunter Steyn is out in the wilderness with his Man Friday and Xi when they encounter the child sent to be a signaller.  They hatch a plan.  They dress Xi up in the child’s clothes and give him instructions to surreptitiously tranquilize the rebel villains with his darts so that Kate and the children can make their escape.  Naturally, the plan goes a tiny bit awry because two of the rebels have snuck off to play their continuous and verboten card game, and in the end it comes down to a bloodless gunbattle, but suffice it to say that the rebels are captured and Kate and the children are rescued, and Kate and Steyn finally have an opportunity to hit it off.

Look into my eyes, I’ve seen it all/Hand in hand together we fall…

And, of course, Xi somehow does manage to find the edge of the world, and throwing the Coke bottle off of it, returns to his tribe.  The end.

This is a fun film.  Is it a great film?  No, I don’t think so.  But it’s a simple slapstick comedy that deals with the interactions between people of extremely different cultures without really stepping on anybody’s toes.  The exception, of course, would be the armed rebels, but everybody hates armed rebels so that’s OK.  (See: every time I’ve ranted about movies using Nazis as enemies.)  There is an odd bit of a disconnect in the film, however, in that in the midst of the whole Benny-Hill-eqsue double-speed comic relief thing the actual coup attempt and subsequent chase are kind of hyper-violent and bloody.  In that sense, the film almost has this sort of “Se7ame Street” vibe, if you get my drift.