Tamala Jones, Nicole Ari Parker, Keith Robinson, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Kevin Hart, Meagan Goode, Mike Epps, Clifton Powell
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Rated R (Ridiculously so!)
Behind the scenes;
It's a shame, really, that Russ Parr's 35 and Ticking is destined to be lumped together amongst the growing sea of films labeled simply as "Black films" or "African American films." There's nothing wrong, of course, with being a Black film or centering a film around the African American experience. However, too often the label is used by a corporate marketing machine or a lazy journalist who can't quite seem to fathom that both African American and Caucasian audiences can, and often do, live very similar lives and have remarkably similar life experiences.
In other words, 35 and Ticking isn't a Black film so much as it is a light, breezy romantic comedy in which the vast majority of the cast happens to be African American.
35 and Ticking isn't a Tyler Perry film or a T.D. Jakes film or a Spike Lee film. It's a slice of life film from the heart and mind of Russ Parr that can and should appeal to a wider audience with the acknowledged truth that the vast majority of the cast will be far more familiar to African American movie fans.
35 and Ticking centers around four friends all having just passed the age of 35 and starting to wonder about the direction of their lives - Zenobia (Nicole Ari Parker) is a tall, beautiful and successful woman whose found success in broadcasting but not love, Victoria (Tamala Jones) is seemingly happily married but at the age of 37 is butting heads with her younger husband over the idea of starting a family, Phil (Keith Robinson) is a hard working man with a good heart whose wife can't quite let go of her partying ways while he's left to stay at home and care for their young children, and Cleavon (Kevin Hart) is a banker, specializing in "deposits," who awkwardly yet adorably takes a liking to Falinda (Meagan Good).
The strength of 35 and Ticking lies in Parr's simple and straightforward script (That's a compliment!) and in his exemplary ensemble cast, several of whom are also credited as producers on the film and who are clearly on the same page as Parr in terms of both the heart and humor contained within 35 and Ticking.
I will openly confess a tremendous bias towards Nicole Ari Parker, a talented actress who also happens to have a daughter with spina bifida (My own birth defect) with hubby Boris Kodjoe. That said, Parker takes what could have easily been a one-note character and brings her vividly to life. It's stretching the bounds of believability to have the desperately single Zenobia fall so completely for the obviously ludicrous lines of Zane (Clifton Powell), an aging former gangbanger whose personal ad she answers. Yet, Parker infuses the scene with such humanity and such a painful sense of self that it becomes ever so slightly believable that this beautiful and intelligent woman could be willing to surrender to the "chance" this might be Mr. Right.
The film's real surprise is found in well known stand-up comic Kevin Hart, who embodies the kind of friend we all have - the good guy who makes bad choices and the immature buddy who has amazing potential that seemingly never gets fulfilled. Hart certainly serves up the expected humor, but his Cleavon goes far beyond the laughs. While his ending resolution comes a bit quickly, by then Hart has built enough of a solid character that the audience will be willing to go with it.
Tamala Jones shines as always, while Keith Robinson brings wonderful warmth to what contemporary cinema seems far too little of ... a genuinely good hearted, responsible, hard working and responsible parent who also happens to be an African-American male. Meagan Good is terrific as Falinda, the object of Cleavon's affection, and native Hoosier Mike Epps shows up in a rather offbeat performance that sort of serves as a bookend between scenes.
Where 35 and Ticking struggles a bit is in production values, not exactly uncommon for a lower budget indie flick. While this is Parr's fourth film, this is the first one to hit theaters (It's on a limited nationwide run) and there are a few spots in the film that distract from an otherwise entertaining experience including occasional pacing issues that caused a few of the comic set-ups to feel just a step behind. During the film's opening day of its Indianapolis run at AMC Showplace Washington Square, the print had a distracting tech glitch for about five minutes that, quite fortunately, suddenly disappeared.
Kudos to D.P. Jeff Bollman for his nicely layered camera work. While Kenneth Lampl's original music complemented the film's easygoing vibe quite nicely, it would have helped if Lampl had picked up the pace a bit at a times to companion the film's sillier moments that often came courtesy of either Mike Epps or Kevin Hart.
A nationally syndicated radio show host and acclaimed writer/comic himself, it's clear that 35 and Ticking writer/director Russ Parr is able to translate his spirited, improvisational radio style into scripted dialogue. With 35 and Ticking, Parr has perfectly cast the film to bring his story and dialogue to life and the ending result is a light and breezy romantic comedy where friendship is celebrated, the biological clock is ticking and real life is funny, heartwarming and richly satisfying.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic