★★★★ - STUFF
It was a place Fritz (Uli Latukefu) never wanted to return to.
Kinloch Avenue might have been the cul-de-sac where he grew up, but decades later, it's clear to him it's somewhere he's very much outgrown.
But now, under the pump at work and on the cusp of something great, he's been forced to come back across the Tasman to sell the family home. Buyers are interested, but his Uncle Otto (Nathaniel Lees), who has the other half-share in the property, has gone silent. Still, so confident is Fritz of a quick resolution, that he hasn't even brought any spare clothes.
However, even he isn't prepared for dealing with life again on this "left testicle" of a street. The Pig Hunters gang and its prospects have imposed a reign of terror on all the residents, Otto is constantly having his lawnmower stolen and their next-door neighbour (Shavaughn Ruakere) is being harassed by the local law enforcement (Xavier Horan).
Then, after an exhausting first evening, comes the kicker – someone has purloined Fritz's famous father's championship wrestling belt – and Otto won't even countenance selling up until it is safely returned.
What follows is a crowdpleasing action-comedy that feels like a cross between Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle, cult Kiwi movie Tongan Ninja and the weird and wacky criminal world of Guy Richie movies.
The Legend of Baron To'a offers a South Auckland suburbia filled with colourful characters and menace around every corner, wonderfully choreographed fight and chase scenes, choice dialogue and plenty of over-the-top male posturing.
Writer John Argall (Netherwood, Darryl: An Outward Bound Story) ensures the story isn't just a series of set pieces, as Fritz's psychologising comes up against the "back in the days ways", while former Shortland Street-star-turned-producer-director Kiel McNaughton (Waru, Find Me A Māori Bride) delivers both the action and comedy with a freshness and flair that truly delights.
Not everything works. A twist is well and truly telegraphed, while one or two of the characters feel underwritten, but that's more than compensated for by Legend's feel-good factor and hilarious hijinks.
Star Latukefu (Doctor Doctor and soon to be seen in Taika Waititi's football tale Next Goal Wins) is a charismatic presence in the mould of Robbie Magasiva, while veteran Lees has his best role since Sione's Wedding. The real scene-stealer though is a bulked-up Jay Laga'aia (Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Street Legal), who offers Fritz a friendly face when he first arrives back in Kinloch Ave.
While very much a lighter look at South Auckland life than Once Were Warriors and What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?, Legend still packs a narrative punch. That it will likely appeal to both younger audiences and those who grew up watching pro-wrestling on TV in the 1970s and '80s just makes it even more of a triumph.
- James Croot, STUFF
The Legend of Baron To'a is now playing at Light House Cinema!