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'Kingdom Come': Family Spirit

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 11, 2001

   


    'Kingdom Come' LL Cool J is part of a wacky family in "Kingdom Come." (20th Century Fox)
In "Kingdom Come," the kingdom that comes isn't the kingdom of Heaven: It's the kingdom of family, forgotten by the Slocumbs but remembered in time to save their collective soul.

Far from the most sophisticated film to arrive in Washington this year, it's still so heartfelt as to suggest that sophistication is overrated.

"Kingdom Come" checks in on the domestic home-front spectrum, African American style, somewhere between a chitlin-circuit gross-out (the flatulent minister is a bit much) and Eugene O'Neill. The laughs are cheap and the pain is profound.

Its gospel is pure and simple and still worth singing about: We are family. It argues this persuasively, and without sentimentality: We the failed, the disappointed, the unhappy, the feckless, the pathetic, the infirm – we are family, all of us, and together we have a chance that alone we could never even sniff.

The Slocumbs happen to be black, and the site happens to be a hot, small town where folks have settled into their lives like a pair of comfy but tattered bedroom slippers. That's not to say they're happy. In fact, they're really not. The marriage at the center of the film has been sexless, loveless, almost voiceless for at least 12 years. In the extended family, marriages are edgy, choked on disappointment. Several family members seem to have gone a little nuts; one can't even get dressed to find work, and dreams of the easy living he could find on welfare, if only he got married and had two or three kids he couldn't support. Mama is lost in bitterness, and her two sons are, respectively, an ex-drunk barely holding on to his life, and a failure despised by his wife and pretty much ignored by his three boys.

The paterfamilias of this wreckage, moreover, is not a great man at all. In fact, everybody dislikes Bud Slocumb so much that he could wear "He Hate Me" on the back of a jersey and nobody would find it remarkable. But Bud is about to give his family his greatest gift, one his wife and sons and sister and nephew and assorted Slocumbs the county over will ever so greatly appreciate. The gift, which comes accompanied by a resounding kerplunk when his head hits the rug, is his death.

Dead, he's still a pain in the butt; he just doesn't yap so much. His wife, Raynelle (Whoopi Goldberg), wants to commemorate him with the following 12 letters on his tombstone: Mean and surly. One suspects she might have preferred another 12-letter word.

But for the Slocumbs, the next three days are an ordeal punctuated by anguish and, thanks to the Rev. Hooker (Cedric the Entertainer), wind-breaking. The gist of the story, derived from a play by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones, is that thrust together, the Slocumbs discover something they'd forgotten: their own sense of togetherness.

Bud's oldest son, Ray Bud (LL Cool J in a superb performance), is an ex-drunk and auto mechanic still suffering over the love his father never showed him and secretly upset because he seems biologically unable to have an heir. His wife, Lucille (Vivica A. Fox), is the strong one: a decent woman who holds it all together while Ray Bud fights with his own self-loathing.

The other son is Junior (Anthony Anderson), who's lost all his money investing in some kind of invention; for this, his wife, Charisse, makes him pay, big time. Charisse (Jada Pinkett Smith) is the one overdrawn character in the film; she's more stereotype than type.

The best performance in the film may be Goldberg's. As the widow of Bud and the mother of Ray Bud and Junior, mother-in-law of Charisse and Lucille, she works a different side of the street. Instead of a big blowy performance (that one is given by Loretta Devine as Ray's holy-rolling, Scripture-quoting sister), Goldberg plays Raynelle tight and quiet. She's a woman so disillusioned by life that no pretense is worth the effort to preserve – thus, "mean and surly" on the headstone – and nothing worth fighting for. She just wants to get this over with, and get Ray's bones interred so she can get about her life. But like all the battered Slocumbs, hers is a journey toward reconciliation.

Nothing big happens in "Kingdom Come." It's pure domestic comedy-drama, about regular people in regular times and regular ordeals. Some of the humor is overdone, occasionally to the point of absurdity, but at some level it's so true to the spirit of regularity – of people getting by, and coming together, of the rewards of an end to anger – it manages to be profound without being pompous.

"Kingdom Come" (90 minutes) is rated PG for the kind of jokes 13-year-old boys will find hilarious.

 

Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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