Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Katt Williams, Chi McBride
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
David E. Talbert
Those familiar with the work of Black playwright David E. Talbert, who wrote and directs this film, will know to expect more from "First Sunday" than could be expected merely by watching the film's marketing campaign and move trailers.
Judging from the film's marketing, "First Sunday" appears to be a simple, post-awards season throw-away film targeted squarely at Black audiences and potentially magnifying a number of racial stereotypes that are, mostly without exception, inaccurate.
Fortunately, Talbert is, in many ways, a lesser-known variation of Tyler Perry with a solid sense of character development, authentic dialogue and the blending of comedic developments into dramatic storylines. The result is that, despite a few collapses into sitcom-humor and an ending that is dissatisfying at best, "First Sunday" is a surprisingly entertaining and lightly involving cinematic effort from Talbert.
In the film, friends Durell (rapper turned family film star Ice Cube) and LeeJohn (SNL Alum Tracy Morgan) are in dire straits. Durell must come up with $17,000 in child support to keep his ex-wife from moving his son to Atlanta, while LeeJohn has managed to accidentally betray people whom it seems unwise to betray.
The two plan to rob a local church that is collecting, on their premises, funds designed to build their new house of worship. Of course, nothing goes as planned and the two end up unexpectedly holding hostages including the Pastor (Chi McBride), the choir director (Katt Williams), a deacon (Michael Beach) and others.
If you're groaning at the tired set-up and potential for lame humor, think again.
While "First Sunday" does have its share of humor that misses its mark, Talbert's script is a surprisingly pleasing balance of humor and sensitivity. While it would have been easy to turn Durell and LeeJohn into bumbling bad guys...they're not. They may make really bad choices, but they're two guys trying to make the best of bad situations. Durell really loves his son, and LeeJohn's character is developed enough that he's far more than just the funny sidekick.
"First Sunday" would have been a marvelous holiday season release, though it may have gotten lost in the other two Black inspirational films released, "Perfect Holiday" and "This Christmas." Yet, with its themes of redemption and forgiveness, "First Sunday" is a rewarding and entertaining film that deserves more of an audience than it will find in January's movie garbage heap.
As the flamboyant choir director, largely the only stereotype found in the film, Katt Williams steals virtually every scene he's in and manages to make even PG-13 humor seem naughty, funny and delightful. Tracy Morgan flexes his dramatic acting muscles ever so slightly and, as one would expect, manages to hold his own with his character's more humorous moments. With the more dramatic and grounded of the characters, Ice Cube puts on full display the fact that he's grown as an actor and offers a finely nuanced and rather endearing performance.
Chi McBride brings some nice moments to the Pastor, and Regina Hall, Malinda Williams and Keith David round out a solid supporting cast.
Given the film's rich character development and patient storytelling, the ending for "First Sunday" feels rushed, artificial and dissatisfying. The ending seems either a catering to studio influence or an effort to keep the film at a certain length as it falls short of Talbert's usual standard of writing.
Alan Caso's cinematography suits the film nicely, while Stanley Clarke's score shines and companion the film nicely.
While "First Sunday" falls short of a wholehearted recommendation, it's a surprisingly entertaining and heartfelt effort from filmmaker David Talbert. Ignore the poorly conceived marketing campaign and check out this modest gem from Screen Gems Releasing.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic