Uninspired, but not altogether unlikable, the Canadian, high concept romantic comedy Love Jacked has its heart in the right place, but holds zero surprises and only a handful of moderate chuckles. A comedy of misunderstandings and elaborate lies waiting to come undone told with the narrative reliability of the sunrise, Love Jacked might boast the distinction of starring and being produced by a predominantly black cast and crew, but it’s just as flatly predictable as its white counterparts. Films predominantly starring, produced, and directed by black people are rare in Canadian cinema – a depressing statistic that needs to change – but Love Jacked is as safe and palatable as most of the country’s other mainstream cinematic output. Undiscerning fans of the genre might get a slight kick out of some of this, and the cultural representation is assuredly important, but there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before and better.
Budding American artist Maya Johnson (Amber Stevens West) has a great big mess on her hands. While on a trip to South Africa, Maya meets Mtumbie (Demetrius Grosse), a well to do businessman for whom she falls head-over-heels in love. They get engaged after only three weeks together; a development that greatly consternates her hardware store owning father (Keith David) back home. But before Maya can introduce the family to her new beau, she catches Mtumbie cheating. Distraught, but more willing to lie than giving her father the satisfaction of saying “I told you so,” Maya stalls for time by saying that Mtumbie will be on his way to America shortly and that the wedding is still very much a go. The solution to her problem comes in the form of Malcolm (Shamier Anderson), a Montreal pool shark on the run from his former partner-in-crime (Lyriq Bent) after growing a conscience and giving some of their earnings back to a mark. In exchange for pretending to be Mtumbie in front of Maya’s family, Malcolm gets to lie low for a bit while his partner’s heat dies down. Malcolm dons a robe and a thick accent to play up the act, and Maya agrees that as soon as the wedding is over, she’ll lie again and say that her new husband died on their honeymoon.
What are the chances that Maya and Malcolm will fall in love over the course of Love Jacked? The odds are so good that bookies wouldn’t take bets on it if they were to hear the set up of the plot. It’s a tried and true high concept plot where someone with a broken heart concocts a scheme to get back at someone or to avoid shame and embarrassment. It’s not unworkable, but it’s assuredly cliched, and director Alfons Adetuyi and writers Robert Adetuyi (Stomp the Yard, Code Name: The Cleaner) and Linda Eskeland aren’t messing with the formula at all. From point A to point B, Love Jacked unfolds exactly how one expects it would with positively no deviation from genre norms. Even stumbling blocks to the budding couples’ happiness in the form of a hyper-sexual cousin (Nicole Lyn) and Maya’s constantly needling afrophile uncle (Mike Epps, in what basically amounts to a cameo) feel like softball complications straight out of a screenwriting textbook. Love Jacked doesn’t feel like a film about real people with real problems. It’s a film where fictional characters go through situations that other fictional characters have had to navigate before.
Love Jacked looks, moves, and breathes at every turn like a piece of entertainment with nothing more important or pressing to say than “lying to people is bad” and “love the one you’re with.” It takes place in a warm and sunny location, and the characters generally get along with one another without much fuss. Family members gently attack each other with good natured barbs that viewers familiar with the genre could probably speak before the characters get the lines out of their mouths. There are a handful of montages cut to recognizable pop, soul, and R&B tracks designed to show the passage of time with the least amount of dramatic complexity possible. If it has been done effectively before, Adetuyi attempts it here, and although the overall degree of difficulty for something like Love Jacked is relatively low, I can’t say that the film doesn’t accomplish its crowd pleasing goals. But while fans of such movies might have a decent time watching Love Jacked, they’ll likely forget they even saw it or get it confused with another film that has a similar concept.
Is Love Jacked a mediocre romantic comedy? Absolutely, but it would be cynical to say that it’s wholly without merit or charm. West and Anderson are capable performers with great chemistry, and the latter particularly relishes the chance to portray Malcolm as someone whose exposure to African culture is limited to Eddie Murphy’s performance in Coming to America. It’s nice to see David in a role that doesn’t require him to be an overwhelming hardass, and although he’s somewhat underutilized, he’s too much of a pro to not control the screen whenever he appears. There’s plenty of good will in the material, and it never takes a misstep into potentially offensive, sexist, or overly reductive social territory. There’s nothing in Love Jacked that will make viewers feel bad about the fact that they’re watching a romantic comedy, which sounds like faint praise, but given the dire, bargain basement nature of the genre as of late, it counts for more than one might think.
Everyone will know exactly how Love Jacked will end ten minutes after it starts, and it will play through without deviation or swerves. There’s nothing wrong with Love Jacked, per say, but it’s indistinguishable from a film that could’ve been made with a white family and almost no changes to the script. That might be a bid to bring in a bigger audience, but it also robs the film of its cultural uniqueness and specificity. It’s the kind of movie best suited to watching while one cleans their house or while sitting around with friends and a bottle of wine; an experience where the actual watching of the movie is secondary to having something on in the background. Still, one could do a lot worse.
Love Jacked opens in select Canadian cities on Friday, December 7, 2018. It also screens at select Landmark Cinemas across the country as part of the Canadian Indie Film Series for one night only on Wednesday, December 5.
Check out the trailer for Love Jacked: