Movie Reviews

Published on September 29th, 2020 | by Neil Jordan

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“Chief Zabu” Captures 80s America With A Comedic Twist

Greetings & Salutations Everyone!

It’s perplexing how so very few people seem to comprehend the grand efforts that go into the production of a movie. The numerous individuals involved, the various disciplines and skill sets,    the length of production time, etc. The film I have the good fortune to share with you today has essentially been on one of the longest journeys I’ve ever heard of. A journey so lengthy in scope, it was the subject of a recurring gag during the tenure of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’. 30 years. That’s right. It actually didn’t take 30 years to literally make/film the movie. Production for the film began in 1986. But due to an unforeseen series of circumstances, production was unable to be completed until 2016. Now if you’re a ‘die hard disciple’ of MST3K, obligations don’t matter. The fact that they thought enough of it to make it the subject of a running joke is advertisement enough to make you want to see the film. So … without further adieu I present for your consideration, “Chief Zabu”

“Chief Zabu” is a socio-political comedy that takes place primarily in New York during the mid-1980s and follows a determined New York businessman who believes his dreams of wealth and political power can be secured by cornering the economic future of a newly independent Polynesian country. The film was directed, produced, and written by Zack Norman  (credited as Howard Zuker) and Neil Cohen. The film stars Allen Garfield, Zack Norman, Manu Tupou, Ed Lauter, Marianna Hill, Allan Arbus, Harsh Nayyar, Joseph Warren, Betty Karlen, Tom Nardini, Charles Siegal, Shirley Stoler, Lucianne Buchanan, and Ferdinand Mayne.

Chief Henri Zabu (Tupou) is the leader of a Polynesian country who has been thrust into the world of politics and has journeyed to New York City to secure recognition for his country from the United Nations. Secretly, he has come to hopefully secure investors and the finical backing to kickstart his country’s economy and infrastructure. Ben Sydney (Garfield) and his longtime friend and partner Sammy Brooks (Norman), are a pair of devious and crafty New York realtors going from one mediocre deal to the next while fantasizing about that ‘deal of a lifetime’ that will one day hopefully ‘find them’. It does. Sort of. Through a series of almost unreal interactions with a series of characters ranging from con artists to wealthy individuals who would likely push a family member into a pool if properly motivated, Ben and Sammy believe they’ve got the political and finance connections to make their ambitions a reality. And then, just when things are going so well … the proverbial rug looks as though it’s going to get pulled out from under them. So it would seem. New York realtors with political aspirations and possibly questionable morals. Does this ring any bells anyone?

Setting aside the comedic aspects of the film, it’s a fictional yet not unrealistic representation some of the political and economic influences that surrounded the arena of the United Nations in the mid to late 80’s. An interesting side story that depicts how first world nations would seize the opportunity to try and capitalize on newly independent or weaker nations by securing footholds in their economic and political power bases. Thereby funneling a nation’s resources and wealth away from those nations.

In the end, the film captures the 80’s in America much for what it was with a comedic twist. Celebrity worship, political backstabbing, and materialism. The only other film I can think of off the top of my head that did better would be ‘American Psycho’. Thankfully and perhaps gratefully, ‘Chief Zabu’ accomplished this WITHOUT the excessive and unprecedented depictions of violence. I’d give this film 4 out of 5 stars. The only way to one-up the movie is if we could take it back in time and give it the ‘MST3K’ treatment.

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