First Sunday

2008, Movie, PG-13, 96 mins

Review

FIRST SUNDAY
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A slack combination of faith-based inspiration and broad 'hood comedy, this infelicitous mishmash — whose title vaguely and deceptively suggests that it might be an offshoot of star and producer Ice Cube's popular FRIDAY films — marks the theatrical filmmaking debut of playwright and novelist David E. Talbert.

Baltimore buddies Durell Washington (Cube) and LeeJohn Jackson (Tracy Morgan, of TV's 30 Rock) have been getting in trouble together since they were kids, but as grown men their perpetual screwing-up is looking less like "boys will be boys" foolishness and more like shiftlessness, irresponsibility and general contempt for the law. The one thing to which Durell is consistently committed is fatherhood: He loves his son, Durell Jr. (C.J. Sanders), walking the adoring child to school daily and dispensing paternal advice about planning for the future. But that's not enough for Durell's put-upon ex-girlfriend, hairstylist Omunique (Regina Hall), whose dream of running her own neighborhood salon has been shattered by her landlord's demand for the next year's rent in advance — more than $17,000 dollars. She doesn't have it, so she plans to take Durell Jr. and move in with her grandmother in Atlanta, where she can make a fresh start. Desperate not to lose his son, Durell falls in with LeeJohn's typically impulsive plan to rob a local church. Naturally, that too goes wrong: The hapless would-be robbers find the money missing and wind up holding the church council and choir hostage while trying to figure out which of these supposedly godly people — including too-slick Deacon Arthur (Michael Beach), wise old Momma T (Olivia Cole), the saintly pastor and his spitfire daughter (Chi McBride, Malinda Williams), motherly sister Doris (Loretta Devine) and fey choir master Rickey (Katt Williams) — beat them to the loot.

The film's few, small laughs come at the expense of broad stereotypes: Morgan's cowardly hustler, Williams' mincing music man, Beach's pious religious hypocrit, and Devine's plus-sized Earth mama, who knows that if anything will draw out the good man under the thug-life posturing it's a heaping plate of fried chicken, potato salad and greens chased with peach cobbler. NAACP Award-winner Talbert, who comes from a long line of preachers, is a star of the same "urban theater" circuit that spawned master-of-all-media Tyler Perry and appeals to churchgoing African-Americans who like their spiritual uplift with a heaping side of sass. And for all its shortcomings, his film caters to an audience consistently ignored by the Hollywood mainstream, a fact that was apparently not lost on Ice Cube and accounts for the participation of such crossover artists as Morgan, Devine, McBride, Hall, Keith David and comedian Katt Williams. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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