Take Home Review because the pay goes straight to your family

Sibling duo Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa and Abba Rose (Dinah Vaiaoga-Ioasa)’s third feature film Take Home Pay took the best of their first films - Three Wise Cousins, and Hibiscus & Ruthless - while learning from any mistakes made as well. What we have is a polished action-comedy starring the well-known and much-loved laughing Samoan Tofiga Fepulea’i in his debut feature film, wise cousin Vito Vito and introducing former What Now presenter Ronnie Taulafo. LAUMATA LAUANO reviews



It’s funny.


Let’s just get that out of the way, you don’t even have to be Samoan to find the humour- but it certainly does make it funnier. I’m sorry, that’s just facts.


You’ll find that Stallone’s films appeal to a certain shared narrative amongst Samoans, and even the wider Pasifika communities.


Maybe even shared trauma which we can laugh about now because there’s no point in crying over spilt milk and honey. Unless it’s abuse, don’t laugh off/normalise abuse.


My point is the films are relatable, perhaps not specifically, but generally something happens on screen that makes you laugh because you just get it and it gets you.


That’s not to say that all the jokes hit their mark, but overall you get in a few good laughs - and it’s just a joy to watch.


It’s due to relatable, likeable characters played by believable likeable actors, lovely sweeping shots of what is actually Samoa and, of course, a concept that we’re all familiar with … giving money to our families, whether happily or grudgingly.


It’s Tofiga and Ronnie’s silver screen debuts, not that they’re new to the industry. Tofiga is a veteran comedian and actor and Ronnie had been entertaining kids for years as a What Now presenter. For both, it’s their first starring roles in a film.


And what a way to start a film career, with both actors making their characters their own - especially Tofiga’s Bob Titilo which, according to producer and Stallone’s sister Abba-Rose, shouldn’t be surprising as the main part of a sometimes useful, mostly useless private investigator Bob Titilo was specifically written for him.



We have Vito back, playing a kinder character than his debut role as the meaner wise cousin, here playing the reliable, dead-panned and earnest Alama who has his money earned by working as a seasonal worker in New Zealand stolen by his deceiving, conflicted and misguided brother Popo (played by Ronnie) who is also with him icking fruit in order to take their earnings back home to their parents and their family. 


It's a premise we're all familiar with, whether living in the islands or here in New Zealand- it's very common for young Pacific workers to work for the good of the collective- but in Take Home Pay the question of 'what happens when one of us refuses to do so' is asked.


Tofiga and Vito riff off each other well, with Tofiga’s Bob a ga’o mea’ai (food concentrated) loveable, borderline annoying, idiot working in comedic contrast to Vito’s dependable good-guy Alama.


And when you add in the energetic Ronnie, you have a trio that’s a delight to watch - with no stunt doubles in sight.


The film’s action-sequences benefit from the nifty camerawork and dynamic editing. It helps to have a cast that gels well. I did feel like a scene or two did drag a bit, but the film did a good job of pulling you right back with a well-timed laugh that wouldn’t have cost a thing to throw in.


That’s the beauty of Stallone’s self-funded work. He acknowledges he can’t really quantify the help their team gets from family, friends and communities who helped in non-financial ways.


He makes the implausible seem possible, and it’s done all on a slightly more than shoestring budget.


I recall at the premiere of his first feature film Three Wise Cousins, him saying he always wanted to make a Samoan action film.


At the premiere of Take Home Pay I asked if this was the realisation of that goal. He laughed as he said it was a step towards it.


“It’s helped me realise what we can do on our small budget” he recalls.


“We tried a lot of new things that you know can only get better with time. As much I wanted to make it purely martial arts, that wasn’t what the film was about. It has a lot more to it than that.”



Stallone is right. Take Home Pay is definitely more comedy than action, but in the best way possible. The fight scenes are stylised in a way that emphasises the comedy, but made you feel like you were watching a fight scene from The Matrix with a few dynamic camera and editing tricks.


Despite the small budget, the production values rival that of action films with budgets 10 times that of Stallone’s. Yet that’s not just the comedy or well-cast characters, or even the sweeping shots of Samoa that makes me long for an island nation I’ve only visited once as a 10 year-old.


It’s all of that, and the feeling of being represented- and represented well- on the screen that adds to the sense of enjoyment. It’s hearing your language on the big screen and feeling a sense of pride. It’s seeing familiar Auckland locations that you would have been at or walked by on any given day.


I’m probably going to go see it again when it comes out on September 5, and you should, too.


Stray observations:


  • There are some excellent cameos that will have you in stitches, or just make you point and go HEY!


  • Lima tau, the made up Samoan martial arts used in the film finally gives me a name for mum’s hiding style.


  • It’s interesting that the film questions the collectivism our culture is founded upon via Popo, as Popo embodies the individualism that we tend to criticise for the sake of the collective good. Personally, all things in moderation - while I understand and admire Alama’s loyalty (my pay from the moment I got a part-time job in high-school went directly to my mum) a part of me wishes I had had a little bit of Popo’s nerve.