As enticing as “Nigerian Prince” is upon opening with a series of cons large and small involving a charming Lagos grifter and, separately, his unwitting cousin visiting from America, this earnest indie from Nigerian American co-writer/director Faraday Okoro eventually loses its multithreaded fizz.
Not that you feel like a mark who fell for one of those help-me-retrieve-my-millions email scams referenced by the title, but rather like someone unsure of what Okoro thinks of his trapped characters. Aimless first-generation Nigerian American teen Eze (Antonio J. Bell), shuffled off to his family’s homeland to stay with a welcoming but strict Auntie (Tina Mba), quickly realizes he’s been emotionally swindled when he discovers what he thought was a summer trip is really a yearlong disciplinary project meant to straighten him out and teach him some heritage.
Meanwhile, Auntie’s estranged son Pius (Chinaza Uche), an inveterate scammer, is in deep payback trouble with a corrupt cop (Bimbo Manuel) and sees in Eze a potential co-conspirator. Okoro, who drew from his own youthful experiences as a kid sent to Nigeria by his parents, puts many tantalizing elements and relationships into play, aided by Mba’s formidable authoritativeness as Auntie and an appealingly nonjudgmental attitude toward Pius’ scheming ways.
But when the stakes are raised, ho-hum thriller plotting takes over and Okoro struggles to clarify what his characters want. By the end, everyone’s motivations are fuzzy and the promise of a uniquely complex story of cross-cultural education, opportunity and morality has withered.
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica