PAFF: South African thriller ‘iNumber Number’ is gripping but familiar

inumber-number-posterCorrupt cops? Check. Heist plot? Check. Morally conflicted undercover detective? Check. The formula for the crime thriller hasn’t changed much over the years and with good reason. Donovan Marsh’s iNumber Number is a testament to the genre’s power, providing slick entertainment with his South African take on the ever popular cops and robbers tropes.

iNumber Number stars rising talent S’Dumo Mtshali as Chili, an undercover cop who, along with his partner Shoes (Presley Chweneyagae), has amassed an impressive reputation for catching criminals on the mean streets of Johannesburg. Their latest case resulted in the successful capture of a notorious mob, further cementing their standing as two of the best in the business. But when they approach their captain for recognition, they are asked to conceal some evidence in another case in exchange for their due compensation. The bribe goes against their usual law-abiding methods however, leaving the men in a quandary. Thinking back on all their years of hard work, Chili decides to get what’s rightfully his by infiltrating a gang to get a share of their impending heist, against the unwilling protests of Shoes. But Chili is a man on a mission, though he soon realizes that he’s in way over his head.

Explosions, death-defying stunts and double-crossings ensue in a plot that will be familiar with any fan of Hollywood heist thrillers. Sharply edited by director Donovan Marsh himself and stylishly shot by cinematographer Tom Marais, the film keeps your heart-pounding from start to finish. And of course, no crime film is complete without a memorable villain. In this instance, that role belongs to Israel Makoe, who turns in a fearsome performance as the trigger-happy Skroef, one of the key figures in the gang.

As our “hero”, S’Dumo Mtshali is no Tom Cruise, but he gets the job done. The same goes for the rest of the cast, who are effective but feel more like stock types in the spectrum of unsavory bad guys. The trajectory of the plot is also standard fare, as Chili inevitably suffers the consequences of his greed and the associated moral crisis.

Marsh does bring a distinct South African flavor however, distinguishing the film even as it plays to the usual tropes. In particular, the film doubles as a commentary on the almost comical level of corruption that exists within the country, which leads to desperation for persons like our protagonist. But most of all, this actioner is genuinely entertaining, even if it feels like something you’ve seen before.