Very much a blend of almost every single notable sub-genre of American crime film, South African director Zee Ntuli’s debut feature is definitely an experience.
Hard To Get follows young womanizing barman TK, a local hero to his small town whose life is entirely flipped when the enigmatic drifter Skiets walks into his life. Instantly enticed by her scrappy confidence, TK tries it on and in the process, finds himself unwillingly dragged into a chaotic fight with a local gangster. With no choice but to run, the pair head for Johannesburg, a bustling labyrinth of crime and misery. Thrust amongst the petty thieves and big-time dealers, TK and Skiets must fight to survive before their new and unforgiving home swallows them both whole.
Despite its deep-seated African roots, the influence that really drives Hard To Get is very unmistakably Hollywood. Ntuli’s love for American cinema is plain to see, and although this makes for a more accessible tone to his film, it also has some quite significant ramifications. It’s clear that the director has a pretty extensive knowledge of the famous Hollywood action movie tropes, and peppering his film with one or two could be seen as paying a loving homage to the mainstream system, but to use every single one of them seems a bit more like overkill. Ntuli painstakingly shoehorns in cliche after cliche, diving between over-stylised car chases and exceedingly brutal fist-fights with swathes of pointless slow-motion and a truly crushing dubstep-infused score. The result is something more akin to a ten year old music video, and a cheesy one at that.
However, this isn’t to say that Hard To Get isn’t an entertaining film. Its amateur cast and devoted crew pull off a coherent narrative and even infuse it with some genuinely affecting sequences, it’s just that the over-saturated style Ntuli guns for ruins any chance the film has of ever being taken seriously. More often than not, this feels more like a parody than it does a standalone film.
This is doubly unfortunate for the film’s stars Pallance Dladla and Thishiwe Ziqubu who both certainly pledge a great deal to their respective roles. Dladla’s TK begins as very much a likeable hero with a strong sense of wit and a tremendously commanding presence. Ziqubu’s Skiets is likewise, a fierce and yet relatable figure, and the two share a natural rapport that opens up a secondary, more emotional path for the film to venture down. And yet, all Ntuli seems to care about is recreating his favourite action movie moments, despite the fact that all appear horrendously out of place.
Instead of embracing his and the film’s national identity further, first-time filmmaker Zee Ntuli has made just another vapid Hollywood clone. Hard To Get may look good in certain lights, but its lack of composure or a more honest, imaginative approach lets it down greatly. By no means awful, just ripe with potential, most of which is wasted on attempting to appeal to a wider market.
Hard To Get is directed by Zee Ntuli.