One-liner: While flashy and lightweight, this Afro-chic heist thriller and neo-western remains entertaining, gritty, relentless and vibrant.
iNumber Number (aka Avenged) is an entertaining, gritty, riveting and street smart South African take on Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. A compelling and suspenseful gangster drama with a stellar ensemble, this blistering and violent heist crime thriller set the standard for local actioners. Now a decade later, the sequel or reboot iNumber Number: Jozi Gold has landed. While there are some obvious differences, Jozi Gold recaptures many of iNumber Number’s best features, retaining writer-director Donovan Marsh and its co-leads in S’Dumo Mtshali as Chili and Presley Chweneyagae as Shoes.
In iNumber Number, undercover cop Chili Ngcobo tried to get a cut in an armoured vehicle heist. Now years later, Chili goes undercover as part of a special investigations unit, to infiltrate a planned gold heist in Johannesburg. Hinging on his conscience once again, iNumber Number finds the experienced cop caught up in a moral dilemma as he must decide between his own sense of justice and the law. While not essential, it does help to have watched iNumber Number for added context and character texture.
iNumber Number: Jozi Gold is a sequel but there’s a world of difference. Both films prize style over substance, but Jozi Gold ratchets up the flair to deliver a much more slick and vibrant actioner. The relentless opening sequence is testament to this reversal, switching out the true grit and red-eyed fury of iNumber Number for more colourful mainstream appeal in the vein of Bad Boys and The Fast and Furious cool. Both franchises have typically performed well in South Africa, making this a street-smart upgrade, downplaying violence whilst harnessing an extra dose of local flavour.
Re-teaming for the sequel, Mtshali and Chweneyagae embrace a Bad Boys type dynamic. Not trying to rival Smith and Lawrence’s co-lead chemistry, their unassuming charm and real history gives them authentic chemistry when they do share the screen. Mtshali continues to drive proceedings through his character’s sheer determination and dramatic intensity, reminiscent of Wesley Snipes at times. This flamboyance is tempered by Chweneyagae, whose level-headed and straight arrow performance serves as a welcome counterbalance.
“Let’s catch some crooks… after lunch.”
iNumber Number had a stellar supporting cast with Israel Matseke Zulu, Warren Masemola, Owen Sejaka, Hlubi Mboya and Brandon Auret. While not quite as legendary in the gangster department, the sequel brings a wealth of experience in Deon Lotz and Bongile Mantsai with the welcome addition of Clementine Mosimane, Brenda Ngxoli and Noxolo Dhlamini. Lotz slips into his old world character, van Zyl, able to wield the curious basement cop with enough force to consider the role for a spin-off. Almost unrecognisable, Mantsai adds his considerable presence and energy to create an enigmatic and wonderful counterpoint to Mtshali as The Hyena Man. Ngxoli adds some wacky fun as the head of the Special Investigations Unit with the action-ready Dhlamini playing a would-be siren.
Whether a sequel, reboot or both, there’s rarely a dull moment in the flashy and Afro-chic iNumber Number: Jozi Gold, kickstarting the movie with a frenzy of action and sustaining a good pace as the big heist comes into full view. While this sleek and near-kaleidoscopic adventure is entertaining, eye-catching and unstoppable, it’s a clear case of style over substance. Most action movies do naturally lean into a more lightweight terrain when it comes to characterisation but this is especially true for iNumber Number: Jozi Gold. Jumping straight into the thick of things and going full tilt, there’s little time for nuance or back story but do look out for a few inside movie references.
There are a few moments that point towards a lifelong friendship between Chili and Shoes but besides connecting an altruistic spirit and their origins, it’s mostly what-you-see-is-what-you-get. The superficial shimmer is enough to keep you rooting for the good guys as the intricacies of their master plan unfold amid unexpected setbacks and twists. Ironically, besides a Robin Hood sentiment with respect to returning power to the people and honour among thieves, there’s not all that much to mine, delivering a movie geared towards pure excitement and popcorn entertainment.
The gold overlay and eGoli concept come through in the colour palette. Gold goes beyond Joburg’s “city of gold”, churning up the film’s western vibrations as Jozi’s “Wild West” quagmire of lawkeepers and lawbreakers become the film’s playground. While there’s a wealth of international appeal to make this actioner more accessible, it’s actually best watched with the original soundtrack for the sake of authenticity. iNumber Number: Jozi Gold interlaces some wonderfully local elements from touches of humour to waste picker trolley riders.
While trading passion for panache and going for style over substance, iNumber Number: Jozi Gold is still an entertaining, imaginative, gritty, slick, stylish and vibrant crime thriller. A worthy action and neo-western reboot sequel to its predecessor, the flashy overhaul ramps up the iNumber Number dynamic for mainstream appeal, even if the distance created by superficial character handling stunts emotional investment and immersive resonance. A fierce and visually-striking heist movie with a distinct African vibration, there’s still much to admire in Jozi Gold, an actioner with enough quirk, fun and pizzazz to power home.
The bottom line: Entertaining