Week 3: First Sunday

Movie: First Sunday
MPAA#: 44051
Showtime: 8:55 PM
Companions: Mare
Attendance: approximately 10
Weather: cold
Food: Full Throttle and Reese’s Pieces from Shopper’s Drug Mart ($6), Mare’s popcorn
Expectations: low
Expectations met?: exceeded
Pre-show Ads: Hyundai; milk

* Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins – Martin Lawrence is a TV doctor who has lost touch with his Southern roots. He returns home for the first time in ten years with his posh wife. The usual mugging and pandering ensues. I am officially praying not to have to watch this.
* Be Kind, Rewind – Jack Black and Mos Def are video store clerks who accidentally erase all of the tapes in the store; they decide to shoot replacement versions of the films starring themselves. The usual mugging and pandering ensues.
* Hancock – Will Smith (who owes me big time after I Am Legend) is a superhero who isn’t much of a hero, causing property damage wherever he goes as someone with super-strength might actually do. Looks funny. Cautiously optimistic.
* You Don’t Mess With The Zohan – Adam Sandler makes a (gasp) funny-looking movie about a former Israeli secret agent who moves to New York to fulfill his dream of hairdressing. I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but the trailer was more or less funny, which is more than you can say for most of Sandler’s movies since The Wedding Singer.

Is it sad that seeing a film that is so squarely aimed at the American black community feels like watching a movie from China or Spain or some other foreign culture? I have thought about race a lot over the years, watched how white kids (and businessmen) have co-opted black culture, watched the different factions point and accuse each other of selling out and setting a bad example.

And so we have Ice Cube, who has been acting for well over a decade- remember when Cuba Gooding Jr. still made good movies? They starred together in Boyz n’ the Hood. Ice Cube’s career has since gone pretty much downhill, through Ghosts of Mars and Torque to those terrible-looking kids’ movies. At least he can say he wasn’t in Boat Trip.

So is First Sunday an improvement? It’s a mixed bag on paper and in reality. Tracy Morgan is funny. Keith David is always a pleasure to watch. Even Chi McBride is bearable for the first time since The Frighteners. On the other hand, the premise of the film is that two guys down on their luck need to steal some money, so they decide to rob a neighbourhood church, only to be locked in with God. When I first heard this, I assumed it was going to be an Oh God! type of script (or Bruce Almighty for you younger folks); in reality the two stars lock themselves into a church after hours, take a dozen people hostage, and are persuaded to change their ways.

The film is set in Baltimore, which has given us the films of John Waters and Barry Levinson, not to mention some of the best television ever in the form of Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire. It’s a town that is frequently depicted as one where race is a serious problem, to say the least. I found First Sunday saddening at first, then surprisingly enjoyable, and ultimately disappointing; once my hopes were raised by the fact that Ice Cube and company were obviously trying to send a positive message to their intended audience, it was sad to see that the rest of the movie was cranked out of the Script-o-Matic 2000 Plus African-American Plugin.

Jokes about hair weaves. Jokes about gay people. Jokes about drag queens. Nurturing big women and high maintenance thin women. Ridiculously contrived reasons for needing a lot of money in a short time. A courtroom scene at the end. No stereotype or stock set piece goes unturned in this film; sometimes this was merely annoying and sometimes it was actually offensive. I don’t expect “black” movies to meet a higher standard than “white” movies, as if they need to try harder to get the same respect; but I do think that if the message of your movie is that your community needs to rediscover its spirituality, it would help if your movie were actually inspiring instead of the proverbial road of good intentions.

First Sunday is a freshman effort from writer/director/producer David E. Talbert, who has apparently made his fortune in bringing his inspirational plays to the stage. He does create some genuinely touching moments and some other genuinely funny ones, but not enough to offset the rest. The film is ultimately so generic that it doesn’t deserve to be the poster boy for any community. I admire First Sunday’s heart, which is obviously in the right place; I just wish it had more guts.

Do I recommend it?: No. Watch Uptown Saturday Night or Hollywood Shuffle or pretty much any Spike Lee movie instead.
Crowd reaction at end of movie: neutral.
Credit cookie?: no.
For further consideration: if you show Keith David at the beginning of a movie, you must fire him by the end.
Opening next weekend: Untraceable; How She Move; Rambo (!?!); The Air I Breathe; 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.
Please God, anything but: How She Move.


About Scott M

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