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Nollywood is renowned for throwing up bad pictures. Running marginal to Nollywood’s low-quality production frenzy is an innovative sub-sector that delivers maybe not (yet) the world’s best, but a fresh deviation from the norm.

In recent times, a few Nigerian filmmakers have brought some innovation and technical superiority to the usual dross dished out in the local film sector. Regarding plot and technique, this seems to be Obi Emelonye’s task in producing the air disaster flick Last Flight to Abuja. The film from the Mirror Boy director boasts an ensemble cast with the likes of Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Jide Kosoko, Jim Iyke, Olumide Bakare, Anthony Monjaro and the surprising inclusion of banking executive Celine Loader.

Each with his/her own professional, medical and emotional luggage, a collage of characters boards Flamingo Air’s Flight 212 from Lagos to Abuja: the day’s last flight. As relationships are questioned and new friendships are made, they soon find one another ‘bonding’ over a mid-air tragedy that will most likely consume them all.

Kae-Kazim plays Adesola, the philandering and thieving company exec, who takes a dark secret aboard the flight. He begins a high-falutin tirade about life and its opportunities when he realises that death is around the corner. Jalade-Ekeinde plays Suzie, who bribes her way on to the flight and despite her emotional turmoil strikes a sudden friendship with her seat mate David played by Jim Iyke. A young footballer, on the way to trials in the English Premiership, watches as his dreams appear to go up in smoke. Jide Kosoko is the Chief, who runs the Lagos-based company that organises a retreat to Abuja for his staff. Ironically, Kosoko himself misses the flight that sets his employers on a tango with death.

Last-minute decisions save some from embarking on the unfortunate trip and lead others to the gaping mouth of death. The film’s tagline regarding what anyone would have done differently if they had 24 hours left to live will lead many to question the decisions they make and their life’s journeys in general. One thing is obvious, anyone could have been a passenger on this plane.

The film features more characters with all their stories intertwining quite ingeniously. To reveal these twists and turns though would raise a spoiler alert. Ali Nuhu, the Kannywood heartthrob is excellent in his cameo as Suzie’s fiancée, Dan. Uche Odoputa (in the role of Mr. Efe) alongside his on-screen wife embody their characters well, providing a dash of comic relief that precedes the central catastrophe.

Many of the other characters though could hardly grab the few screen minutes that was their share. Monjaro (who plays Captain George) and Loader’s cockpit chemistry was mostly unnatural. I was also keen to find out how as the flight’s First Officer, Loader managed to communicate with the control tower as her headphones had no microphone. Jennifer Oguzie as Yolanda distracts from her otherwise impressive acting talent by switching between an American and Nigerian accent without cause. Gracefully, an overdose of bad acting was not the film’s prominent tragedy.

On a positive note though, Emelonye’s film is not just a daring challenge on the Nollywood status quo. It is a daring take on the little addressed topic of Nigeria’s aviation safety records. Last Flight’s London premiere a few days after the Dana Air crash was an ominous toll on the changes that are necessary in the local sector. The Lagos screening brings this issue closer home.

One scene reveals the cause of the mid-air explosion and is a pointer to how most air passengers are unaware of what other ‘luggage’ accompanies theirs into the plane’s belly. The movie also highlights distractions in the control tower. One employee, obviously over-worked as his replacement on the night shift has yet to report, snaps easily and begins to panic when he realises he cannot save Flight 212. He shows little technical knowledge of flying a plane and is mostly helpless as an avoidable disaster endangers the passengers.

The director’s depiction of the characters and how they are directly or indirectly affected by Flight 212 is riddled with suspense and tension-filled moments. The build-up to a happy or sad ending is intricately implanted into the film’s action. The plot’s unravelling gives little away towards the impending climax. It is to Emelonye’s credit that he does not bash his audience on the head with details. He leaves many nuances to the observant viewer such that when pieced together they form a better Nigerian movie than most.

The director plays a lot on irony and flashbacks in the 78-minute picture that draws from the air tragedies that were rampant in Nigeria between 2005 and 2006. In the midst of all the irony lies some bitter truth. At the end of it all, the director offers a vision of hope and leaves us with the ringing question, ‘What if?’

With a sprinkling of 3D to re-imagine the plane in aerial transit and re-construct the eventual explosion, Last Flight to Abuja will not be easily forgotten. Following the success of Mirror Boy, Emelonye sets the stakes higher for himself with this one. His next picture should be nothing less.

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