“Chief Zabu” is a fascinating cult comedy for an odd collection of reasons, not the least of which is the punchy comic chemistry that flows between died-in-the-wool New Yorkers Zack Norman and Allen Garfield.
Garfield plays Ben Sydney, a slimy New York real estate developer angling for an economic foothold on Tiburaku, a tiny Polynesian (recently independent) island nation. Ben falls for conman George Dankworth’s (Allan Arbus) pie-in-the-sky promises about an island known for its proximity to French nuclear testing. Naturally, Ben wants to pitch Dankworth’s $5000 buy-in to his pal Sammy (Norman). Dankworth has gone so far as to ship over a phony diplomat Chief Zabu (Manu Yupou) who is supposedly attempting to gain admission of Tiburaku into the United Nations.
The comedy is all about tone and irrational gags, as when Sammy has adulterous [loud] sex with an investor’s wife (Lucianne Buchanan) much to the dismay of his neighbors.
“Chief Zabu was completed in 1986 but yanked after negative previews. Nonetheless, for nine years, Zack Norman took out a weekly ad in Variety that featured his face with the line “ZACK NORMAN As SAMMY In “CHIEF ZABU” in the hope of finding a distributor for the movie. It took until 2016 for a newly-edited cut of “Chief Zabu” to be publicly presented. If you ever have a chance to see it, don’t pass it up. Here is a rare comic artifact worth savoring.
Rated R. 174 mins. (B) (Three Stars — out of five / no halves)