Kaalgat Karel is the kind of edgy yet divisive movie title that will already give you an inkling if this film’s for you or not. Playing into the candid camera space of Leon Schuster and tempering it with some playful Adam Sandler quirk, it’s geared towards fun, light and fluffy popcorn entertainment. Brandishing a cheeky (‘scuse the pun) title like Kaalgat Karel, you’d be mistaken if you thought it in any way resembled Meg Rickards’s previous film, Tess. Rickards adapted the novel ‘Whiplash’, journeying with a young prostitute’s unexpected pregnancy in a psychological drama set in Muizenberg, Cape Town. Rickards proved she could direct a hard-hitting drama, making a complete turnaround for the silly candy-centred romantic comedy that is Kaalgat Karel.
Heavy dramas are a challenge during the best of times, so it made complete sense to opt for the lighter climbs of pure popcorn escapism given the current climate. Most audiences are currently living through their own dramas, so being able to drift away vicariously through this kind of bubbly mask-free entertainment would come as a welcome break. Set in East London in the Eastern Cape, Kaalgat Karel centres on the seize-the-moment misadventures of Karel, a streaker whose daredevil stunts lead him to meet and befriend a paramedic. Recovering from a serious injury and trying to woo the angel that rescued him, the adventurous young man begins to question whether he’s ready to hang up the banana hammock.
Re-teaming with Christia Visser and producer Paul Egan, who both make equally similar night and day transitions from Tess, Rickards assembles a solid and charming comedy cast. The versatile Visser demonstrates her range, able to capture light and dark shades quite effortlessly to give the film dramatic weight… taking on a fairly typical romantic lead with a few twists for texture. The titular star, however, is the likable Francois Jacobs who’s becoming known for his brave and spirited performances. He doesn’t disappoint in Kaalgat Karel, capturing the devil-may-care exuberance and self-confidence of his character and pulling off some daring streaking stunts, even if simulated.
The supporting cast echo the film’s Jack Parow sentiment with Schalk Bezuidenhout serving as a mascot for the film’s outrageously silly and cheeky yet kitsch homegrown tone. When it comes to the silver screen, Bezuidenhout is best known for his dramatic role in Kanarie, yet ironically his prowess as a stand up comedian precedes him. Being Karel’s best friend and partner-in-crime, Flip, he’s there to keep things upbeat and ensure his streaker buddy doesn’t lose his fire. Siv Ngesi was energy personified in Knuckle City and brings some of his magic to his performance as an over-the-top rival streaker, Vuyo. Getting a chance to flex his muscular frame and be naked on camera, Ngesi goes full tilt as Karel’s would-be nemesis. Tracey-Lee Oliver injects some sass as Maria, Rosebelle Clasen adds a Little Miss Sunshine to the mix while the despicably handsome Eden Classens rounds off the ensemble as a “Prince Charming” rival to Karel’s affections.
“Do I have something stuck in my teeth?”
Kaalgat Karel is a lightweight romantic comedy that’s purely going for entertainment value with a few chuckles and a heartwarming sigh or two. The breezy and candid comedic tone tries to capture the mainstream appeal of Leon Schuster films, which have traditionally blown up at the box office. While the streaking, live social media camera action and public stunts bring some of that madcap flavour, these bookends encompass a movie that actually has stronger Adam Sandler vibrations. This has come to mean a great many things over the years but the blend of an outlandish concept, sweet-natured romance, silly comedy and dumb fun screams Sandler – even if you can’t imagine him running amok in his birthday suit.
While striving for pop culture acceptance and relevance, Kaalgat Karel’s definitely not intended for those who can’t handle the sometimes raunchier side to the comedy of Sandler and Schuster. The streaking is toned down to avoid full frontal exposure with a disclaimer to remind audiences it’s actually illegal. So while there are many justified medium shots of buttocks, Kaalgat Karel retains a modicum of decency that helps inform the character and romantic overtures. When movies are unabashedly formulaic and silly, it’s difficult to criticise them for being anything else than what they are. One could take issue with how over-the-top it is in taking streaking to the next level, drone on about its low-hanging aspirations, its underwhelming romantic climax or find fault with its overt sentimentality. Yet, this would be completely missing the point of this colourful, silly and fun-loving escapade.
Kaalgat Karel is not a great romantic comedy. While the predictable story, over-the-top concept and knowingly dumb fun of it all may irk and even undermine, it’s largely redeemed by its timing, upbeat pacing, fun-lovin’ cast, offbeat quirk and emphasis on cheeky lightweight fun. If a movie’s credits roll with the cast breaking character to sing a song, you know they just wanted you to have a good time. For those who are able to roll with it and have space for a bit of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed silliness in their lives right now, you could do a lot worse than Kaalgat Karel. It’s a tonic for our dark times, a welcome distraction that will entertain with its stellar cast, playful exuberance and sweet nothingness – even if you fall outside of its target audience or have never streaked before! As such, it just does enough to get a high five, which is exactly where Kaalgat Karel lands on the SPL!NG-O-METER.
The bottom line: Fun