You have seen the trailer. It is no spoiler to report that Chief Beecroft (Taiwo Obileye), the character for which EbonyLife Film’s latest extravaganza is named, has just kicked the bucket. This unfortunate event, the film’s inciting incidence is pretty much dispatched with in the opening sequences. The real drama lies in what happens after.
Chief Beecroft, fondly called Chief Daddy was in his lifetime, the right kind of citizen, the Nigerian big man. A Yoruba billionaire with lavish tastes, an extended family and plenty skeletons in his closet. In summary, Chief Beecroft is a product of the writer’s cliched imagination. Chief Beecroft may have had his flaws, but at least, with the help of high-profile lawyers, Tega (Richard Mofe-Damijo) and Remi (Dakore Akande) of television’s Castle & Castle– Yes! The same ones- and bankers, he’s managed to put his affairs in a reasonable state of order.
An unexpected death like Chief Beecroft’s immediately breeds chaos but Chief Daddy has upped the stakes to make his passing even more interesting. As per his request, family members immediately besiege his Lagos home, each one carrying an agenda of their own. The relatives gather to perform the lavish, big-budget production that everyone expects his homegoing to be. There are genuine tears for Chief Daddy, but these are almost indistinguishable from the laments of despondency. Chief Daddy was after all the source of livelihood for a host of people.
We meet the family members living with Chief Daddy at the time of his death, His classy wife, Lady Kay (Joke Silva), her only son and presumed male heir, Femi (Falz), a wannabe rapper. But the clan extends far beyond. Tinu and Teni (Funke Akindele and Kate Henshaw) are Chief Daddy’s twin eldest daughters, both unmarried and united in taking no nonsense from anyone. Incidentally, everyone wants to give them some.
Rachel Oniga, still glowing from her comeback in February’s The Royal Hibiscus Hotel is Chief Daddy’s brash sister, Aunty Joke, dependent on him in life and in death. Ekanem (Ini Edo), Nike (Shaffy Bello) and Justina (Linda Ejiofor) exist solely to threaten the bubble Lady Kay and her no talent offspring have built around themselves. Shoffa Donatus (Nkem Owoh) and Madam Pat (Patience Ozokwor) are longtime domestic assistants, and Beverly Naya is somewhere being Beverly Naya. Complete with a foreign accent.
There are more characters lurking but this review has other things to say. Chief Daddy’s heart is as large as his libido and he ensures that every single family member is tracked. His not-so-simple request? That everyone put aside their egos and differences and work together to give him a befitting sendoff. For the sake of the huge carrot dangled in their faces, everyone agrees to make the effort. Easier said than done.
Directed by EbonyLife films regular, Niyi Akinmolayan, Chief Daddy’s primary selling point is the sheer number of stars that are crammed in the film’s running time. Zainab Balogun, Chioma Chigul Omeruah and Lepacious Bose are other popular names attached to the project. Thanks to the star wattage, interest will be piqued but sustaining it is another matter entirely.
The immediate fallout with such an ungainly contraption is that everything constantly threatens to fall apart. The screenplay credited to Bode Asinyanbi has so little going for it, the all-star cast is left to do a lot of padding. Chief Daddy starts out as a comedy of manners- the jokes are mostly tepid- and quickly devolves into a second-rate version of The Wedding Party, this time with a funeral as the backdrop. Characters are even recycled from the 2016 film in misguided attempts to make lightning strike twice.
There is a harried event planner, a cantankerous food vendor, a cringey romantic subplot and a lavish party scene complete with dance-offs. The whole premise seems to set up simply to take advantage of the available holiday season spending and this cynical cash-grabby motivation is at times off-putting. An attempt at creating some kind of EbonyLife content universe is dead on arrival, mostly because it wasn’t thought through sufficiently or rendered elegantly. A brazen product placement sequence by some Nigerian bank will test many nerve endings with its attempt to erase all the progress that has been made for a while now in that regard.
But these are perhaps the same reasons that will pull in the audiences that Chief Daddy was created to service. The film doesn’t make much sense and its goals are modest such that the simple pleasure of watching a movie and Instagram stars misbehave may indeed be worth the price of admission. If one were interested in playing a game of name that star, Chief Daddy presents loads of material. Akinmolayan’s job is mercenary-like and involves patching everything together from the start till the clumsy ending. Not a lot of ingenuity is required.
As for the stars, Obileye as the title character is hustled out of his own movie in the early scenes. Joke Silva as Lady Kay is the only actor who has some dramatic bones to chew. Everyone is mostly idle, content with looking splendid and reading out clumsy lines. It is hard to hide the presence of Funke Akindele onscreen but Chief Daddy manages this by saddling her with a boring character and expecting her to squeeze out something delightful. Ditto, Kate Henshaw. Nkem Owoh and Patience Ozokwor are underused and Falz struggles through a wobbly English accent. His musical sequence, even though played for laughs, is sure to become a hit and may be the most recognizable takeaway from Chief Daddy.
After the critical disappointment of The Wedding Party 2: Destination Dubai, Chief Daddy is a pivot back to the elements that made the original The Wedding Party work in the first place- parties, music, stars- but with very little improvement. Nothing wrong with profiting from a template of course and if anyone can make it work, it is the EbonyLife team. As long as expectations are managed, Chief Daddy should go down well enough.
The game is the game and Team EbonyLife knows how to play.
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.