A Strong Cast, But 'First Sunday'? Not So Much
Friday, January 11, 2008
Ice Cube and Tracy Morgan are the nominal stars of "First Sunday," but it's Katt Williams who steals the show in this trite, occasionally amusing B-comedy. Cube and Morgan play Durell and LeeJohn, two Baltimore down-and-outers who need quick money and concoct a scheme to rip off their neighborhood church. Once they're inside the house of worship, "First Sunday" goes from caper flick to spiritually inflected dramedy, with touches of Agatha Christie thrown in when the money disappears before Durell and LeeJohn can snag it.
Director David E. Talbert, making his feature debut, cut his teeth on the African American theater circuit, and "First Sunday" bears several of the hallmarks of that subculture: simplistic plot, stereotypical characters, broad comedy and a preoccupation with sexuality. Williams's character, a flamboyant choir director, gets the film's best one-liners. And not just one but two characters deliver the genre's stock allotment of transvestite humor.
Cube, who produced "First Sunday," still exudes the unmistakable appeal that has made such franchises as the "Barbershop" and "Are We There Yet?" movies such hits. But his character -- smart, petulant, grumpily entitled -- isn't nearly as sympathetic as the man playing him. And Morgan, riding a career crest thanks to "30 Rock," actually dials his manic mannerisms back to play a petty criminal whose stupid choices are supposed to be explained by a childhood spent in abusive foster homes.
But too often, the two actors seem to be playing in different movies: Just why someone as bright as Durell is pulling petty heists with a ding-dong like LeeJohn is never satisfactorily justified. Nor is there any explanation for the wild character swings he and his sidekick take throughout the evening. The final payoff, in a crowded Baltimore courtroom, is as preposterous as it is, at least morally, wildly off-key.
But as tired as "First Sunday" is, and as shamelessly as it grovels for laughs, there's a hint of sweetness to the film. And you sense Talbert's obvious affection for Baltimore, where much of the movie was shot. When "First Sunday" succeeds, it's mostly due to terrific casting -- not only Williams (who was also the best part of the Christmas groaner "The Perfect Holiday"), but Chi McBride as the church's unflappable pastor, Olivia Cole as a wise elder, and the sublime Loretta Devine. Devine's pivotal scene with Morgan goes from hilarious to heartbreaking at the drop of a tear. It's dispiriting to see these pros in something as marginal as "First Sunday," but at least they got a paycheck out of the deal, thereby to live -- and work -- another day.
First Sunday (96 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for profanity, some sexual humor and brief drug references.