Behind a pretty strange title, Yankee Zulu hides an underrated and heartwarming comedy from South Africa. Actually, the title is quite revealing since this is probably one of the weirder comedies of the nineties. It’s basically a movie for kids that’s at the same time a buddy movie dealing with not only apartheid but also right-wing organizations. Oh, and did I mention that it also features wild animals like lions and elephants? And by the way, it also makes fun of the British royal family with convincing Charles and Camilla lookalikes. A true nineties extravaganza that will take you back to a time when all this was considered normal. Of course, without any hints of political correctness. Something that becomes quite apparent after the first half of the movie. Ahhh, the nineties, a time when you could get away with almost anything…
I will leave most of the insanities that Yankee Zulu has to offer for you to discover. Just think of any Jim Carrey comedies of the nineties like Dumb and Dumber or Ace Ventura and you’ll know what’s this movie like. Sprinkle some Home Alone on top and that’s it. Towards the end, it turns into a live-action cartoon with surreal action scenes. The beginning, however, is a totally different story. It showcases the advantages of growing up close to nature where you could just have some fun by the lake without having to organize the hell out of it. And a different type of parenting where the kids had the freedom to roam and have fun.
Rhino and Zulu are two best friends living in South Africa and just enjoying their childhood. However, they go their separate ways after an embarrassing incident. Zulu leaves for America and Rhino stays in South Africa. After 25 years, Rhino’s farm is in debt and about to go under and Zulu is a car thief kicked out of the States. However, they will catch a lucky break when Zulu gets his hands on a winning lottery ticket. The only problem is that he stole it from the head of a very dangerous group called Threatened Immigrants Right-Wing Defense and its leader Mr. Diehard…
In its strange way, Yankee Zulu presents a mature look at friendship and race, adapted for kids. With a surprisingly good moral compass if I might add. Any movie that makes fun of racism and especially racist and right-wing organizations is a great movie. Since they crammed a coming-of-age, racism, friendship, and many other themes into one ninety-minute movie, it does feel disjointed. However, the fast pacing and lots of action should cover that up. The humor consists of light dialogue and copious amounts of gags and slapstick. All done with style and in a measured way, without any profanities.
Yankee Zulu will bring out the kid in you, especially if you grew up during the last century. And while it’s clearly a movie for kids, it will entertain adults too. An oddly poignant and amusing character study hides underneath all the humor. Diehard, Rowena, and their relationship are in the focus of it, subverting the official system of values preached for so long. At the opposite end, we have our heroes, who despite all their flaws and “unorthodox” lifestyle are good people and role models. And if you get fucked up you can enjoy this movie fully.
Finally, if you’re looking for movies like Yankee Zulu, I recommend you check out Crocodile Dundee, The Gods Must Be Crazy, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Airplane!, Freaked, and The Party. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Les Visiteurs and Les Anges Gardiens, two similarly unhinged nineties comedies. Enjoy.
Director: Gray Hofmeyr
Writers: Leon Schuster, Gray Hofmeyr, Craig Gardner
Cast: Leon Schuster, John Matshikiza, Wilson Dunster, Terri Treas, Michelle Bowes, Skye Svorinic, Peter Hugo, Tolla van der Merwe
Fun Facts: The acronym for the Threatened Immigrants Right-wing Defence, is TIRD, or TURD.
IMDb Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0111787/