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Originally published Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 3:04 PM

Movie review

'Viva Riva!': Fuel-driven crime drama hits a few bumps

A movie review of "Viva Riva!," a Congolese crime drama that meanders when it strays from the crook in the title.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Viva Riva!,' with Patsha Bay, Manie Malone. Written and directed by Djo Tunda Wa Munga. Rated R for strong sexuality, graphic nudity, brutal violence, language and some drug use. In French and Lingala, with English subtitles. Varsity.

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The plot of this Congolese production is driven by something we can all comprehend: a fortune in gasoline.

Instead of taking gold or diamonds with him to Kinshasa, his fuel-deprived hometown, the compromised hero, Riva, scores with hijacked gas. He's been gone for years, and now that he can demonstrate the meaning of cash flow, he's in a spending mood.

He's also fallen for Nora (Manie Malone), a gangster's restless mistress, and he's attracting more attention than he can afford. His friends are delighted to see him; others wouldn't object if he were thrown to the crocodiles.

There are moments of grim wit in this flashy crime drama. They're especially noticeable whenever the writer-director-producer, Djo Tunda Wa Munga, narrows his focus to the title character, irresistibly played by Patsha Bay. Whenever he's on-screen, "Viva Riva!" pulses with an energy that almost justifies that exclamation point in the title.

The movie meanders when jealousy threatens to drive the narrative. Despite a nifty final twist and a willingness to dispense with a few taboos, it fails to establish a consistent rhythm.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

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