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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
Africa's very own 'James Bond'
By Jo Foster
Douala, Cameroon

At the end of a long heroic day Michael Power treats his weary but picturesque body to a well-earned power-shower.

Critical Assignment billboard
The budget has been huge for an African film
The camera lingers as he soaps up his perfect pecs, but then disaster strikes - the water runs out.

Our hero, along with millions of fellow Africans, has fallen victim to a corrupt politician who is diverting funds away from fresh water projects in order to buy weapons.

In a nutshell that is the plot of Critical Assignment - clean water and dirty politics.

Predictably, our hero dodges bullets, flies helicopters and gets the girl.

Naturally, he outwits the bad guys and restores the clean water supply to a grateful nation.

Rather unique

As an action movie Critical Assignment is not terribly original.

He makes us feel that we too can do things that other people can admire
But as an African action movie it is rather unique. Stunts and special effects demand big budgets which are not normally available to African film makers.

In fact, both the film and the character of Michael Power were created by the beer company Guinness.

For several years 'Michael Power' has starred in a highly sophisticated pan-African ad campaign.

These days he is much more than a handsome face smiling down from a billboard.

For the crowd at the premiere in Douala, Michael Power is a hero.

As one fan said: "He makes us feel that we too can do things that other people can admire".

The next step was for Guinness to cash in on his phenomenal success and fund a movie specifically for its highly lucrative African market.

Entertainment not realism

Critical Assignment was partly filmed in Nigeria and Cameroon - respectively Guinness's fourth and fifth biggest markets in the world.

We made a conscious effort at points in the script to get back out there and show Africa
British film producer, Bob Mahoney
On one level it is no more than a feature length advert for beer.

On another level it is one of the first big budget action movies to be filmed entirely in Africa, with African actors, using African crews.

The British producer, Bob Mahoney, says it was a challenge to film in six different countries but it was his brief to "make it African".

"We made a conscious effort at points in the script to get back out there and show Africa".

The result, at times, is like a promotional film for the African tourist board - a montage of bustling city streets, colourful market scenes, wildlife and culture. Our hero even finds time to go on safari.

The producers say their aim was entertainment and not realism.

So their Africa has wonderful architecture but no roadside rubbish dumps, lively streets but no beggars, plush New York-style apartments but no shanty towns.

But the Cameroonian audience did not share my reservations. At the first glimpse of one of Douala's major landmarks there was a huge cheer of delight.

A brief scene in the Marche des Fleurs prompted an animated discussion about which friends and relatives could be spotted in the background.

For them it was enough to enjoy the simple pleasure of seeing their own country and their own hero up there on the silver screen.

Country profile: Cameroon
05 Mar 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Cameroon
04 Mar 03  |  Country profiles
The cat eaters of Cameroon
17 Mar 03  |  UK

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