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Lively Acting, Brain-Dead Plot

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 13, 2001


    'Kingdom Come' LL Cool J turns in a solid performance in "Kingdom Come." (D. Stevens/Fox Searchlight)
Zesty performances and Doug McHenry's subtle direction carry the day, but not the story, in "Kingdom Come."

David Dean Bottrell and Jessie Jones's adaptation of their stage play, "Dearly Departed," is likably relaxed and often amusing. And this seriocomedy about an African American family funeral yields sassy parlor-room attitude.

He's a nasty old man, this Woodrow "Bud" Slocumb. (We barely meet him.) So when he drops dead one morning, his widow (Whoopi Goldberg) barely blinks. Over the years, their marriage hasn't been exactly wonderful. She stoically prepares for the inevitable: a torturous few days and nights with her relatives.

Here they come, the Slocumbs and their families. Charisse (Jada Pinkett Smith), an energetic, permanently stressed woman, is convinced her husband, the unemployed Junior (Anthony Anderson), is sleeping around. Eldest son, Ray Bud (LL Cool J), takes care of running the show but can't bring himself to face his father's corpse. Marguerite (Loretta Devine) is never far from her Good Book, her eyes forever rolling at the sight of her slacker son, Royce (Darius McCrary). And Juanita (Toni Braxton), another relative, spends most of her time reminding everyone how well she has married.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Hooker (Cedric the Entertainer) does his best to get anyone to tell him anything nice about the departed brother.

Everyone's so busy squabbling, apologizing or proselytizing around the coffin, they forget about the serene widow in the eye of the storm. When they do pay attention, it's too late. Her plan to carve a tell-all epitaph for Bud is already under way.

Director McHenry paces the movie with restraint. But, unfortunately, "Kingdom Come" is full of overfamiliar archetypes such as deadbeat husbands, suspicious wives, hapless preachers and zealous bible-pounders. And the poignancy, that predictable coming together of disparate, dysfunctional relatives, feels like the dramatic equivalent of painting by numbers. It comes too obviously. But there's so much energy and conviction in the performances, including LL Cool J's as the troubled but ultimately good-hearted Ray, you're hard-pressed to dislike the film. And, notwithstanding the rather puerile finale involving flatulence, it's refreshing to see an African American family drama that's actually rated for families.

"Kingdom Come" (PG, 95 minutes) – Contains some strong language and flatulence.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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