It is hard to recall considering today’s fragmented media space but there was a time when Wale Adenuga Productions was at the center of mainstream Nigerian entertainment. With influential titles like Ikebe Super, Papa Ajasco and company and This Life, the studio has been responsible for pushing out prime content across various media platforms since 1976 when the elder Wale Adenuga started publishing the Ikebe Super magazine.
Wale Adenuga Productions hit peak popularity in 2001 when the anthology series, Super Story debuted, seizing the attention of the entire television watching country for years. WAP’s outsize influence may have waned since the dizzying heights of the Super Story era but in over forty years, the studio has built a peerless collection of recognizable characters that have gone on to achieve iconic status.
Knockout makes sense from both creative and commercial perspectives. If Hollywood studios can mint billions of dollars from existing franchises and crossover cinematic events, why can’t the formula be replicated here? Director Patience Ogre Imobhio (Three Wise Men, Super Story’s Itohan) gathers everyone from the Papa Ajasco clan to fan favorites Toyin Tomato and Nnenna for a sprawling crossover event.
With its family friendly gags and familiar vibe, Knockout has been issued to appeal to as broad a base as possible. Audiences who will be unimpressed by the sight of a promiscuous middle-aged obese fellow muttering ‘’ojigbi jigbi jigbi’’ in 2019, at least have Instagram friendly acts like Woli Arole, Broda Shaggi and Charles Okocha to cheer on. Everyone else will make do with the likes of Chiwetalu Agu dishing out yet another audacious proverb/idiom, Toyin Abraham doing a version of her overly dramatic shtick and Hafiz Oyetoro being his usual bumbling self. In other words, Knockout is as predictable and unimaginative as you thought it was when you saw the trailer.
Films built on this kind of foundation are bound to collapse by the midway mark but for some reason, Knockout holds on till the very end. It isn’t very sensible, is hugely derivative but somehow, Ms Imobhio is able to pilot it to an ending that isn’t entirely disastrous. Knockout shouldn’t work but it does.
One of the reasons is the clear, crisp picture that is better than anyone has the right to expect from a film like this. Years investing in studio equipment must have enabled WAPTV and Imobhio achieve a level of technical competence that is usually missing in films like this.
There is barely a thread of a plot to hang the story on as various characters make cameo appearances that appeal to their unique strengths. But a late appearing thread involving the gang (Papa Ajasco, Miss Pepeye, Boy Alinco and Pa James) contributing 60million Naira to bet on a huge boxing match comes out the strongest. In order to raise their own share of the money, these characters will go on separate hare-brained quests. Suffice to say that none of it will work out as planned.
Knockout is slapped together in the tradition of profitable ensembles that have come before. It isn’t quite as glossy as EbonyLife Films’ Chief Daddy, but is not as bare bones as Toyin Abraham’s Alakada Reloaded. Knockout’s ambitions are modest, entirely limited to a commercial goal, but if it sends you into recurrent fits of laughter, can’t it be said to be doing something right?
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.