The Original Kings Of Comedy

2000, Movie, R, 117 mins


Dying is easy, say the sages, but comedy is hard. By that standard, this concert film featuring four middling African-American comics has very little reason for being. It may want to be RICHARD PRYOR LIVE ON THE SUNSET STRIP, but it's more like Battle of the Network Sitcom Stars. It doesn't help, of course, that not one of these guys is a bona fide riot, though to be fair the live audience (it was filmed at a hockey rink in North Carolina) seems to feel otherwise, and they did make some $37 million in two years, doing arena shows for largely African-American audiences. Host Steve Harvey is more unctuous than amusing, though he does a pretty good riff on Kool and the Gang as Titanic's band. Bernie Mac is oddly mean-spirited and creepy, like Jerry Lewis without the warmth, and D.L. Hughley, the baby of the bunch, has all the charisma of the opening act at your local chuckle hut. Of the four, only the rotund Cedric the Entertainer, who has the physical grace of a young Jackie Gleason, seems capable of genuine wit. But the real problem isn't the absence of yuks (after all, one man's gut-buster is another man's yawn). It's that none of these guys has anything particularly interesting on his mind: There's no world view, no scathing insight, no moment when you find your perceptions genuinely challenged, which is a roundabout way of saying that a stream of "black people are different from white people" jokes gets tedious over the course of two hours. For what it's worth, director Spike Lee keeps the whole thing visually interesting, with lots of camera movement and one unexpected, MATRIX-inspired special effect that's a genuine hoot. Ultimately, though, the relentlessly self-congratulatory tone is oppressive, and the two (count 'em, two) routines about why men don't want or need to sexually satisfy their women are two too many. leave a comment --Steve Simels

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The Original Kings Of Comedy
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