‘First Sunday’ passes the plate, comes up empty (C) - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

‘First Sunday’ passes the plate, comes up empty (C)

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Posted: Friday, January 11, 2008 3:46 pm | Updated: 11:22 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

After his dubious flirtation with sippy cups and neutered family humor in the “Are We There Yet?” series, Ice Cube is back on the gat, and that’s a good thing, right? The rapper-turned-actor’s latest comedy, “First Sunday,” is hardly divine — it is, in fact, fantastically banal — but at least it affords Cube the opportunity to resurrect the edgy-urban-antihero persona that he does best. Face it, the guy’s a better actor with a gun in his hand.

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After his dubious flirtation with sippy cups and neutered family humor in the “Are We There Yet?” series, Ice Cube is back on the gat, and that’s a good thing, right? The rapper-turned-actor’s latest comedy, “First Sunday,” is hardly divine — it is, in fact, fantastically banal — but at least it affords Cube the opportunity to resurrect the edgy-urban-antihero persona that he does best. Face it, the guy’s a better actor with a gun in his hand.

Along the way, writer-director David E. Talbert — making his major-studio debut after a string of forgettable straight-to-video efforts — lets the former NWA firebrand find Jesus. Cube plays Durell, a small-time Baltimore ex-con whose earnest efforts to go legit invariably go down in flames. If it’s not his employer-spooking rap sheet, it’s his cousin LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan from “SNL”), a bumbling hoodlum who put the “ne’er” in ne’er-do-well.

“I’m done with criminal active-a-TEE,” Durell proclaims, shortly after he and LeeJohn end up on a community service work detail, their punishment for trying to fence designer wheelchairs for some scary-looking Jamaican gangsters.

So why should we give a gold grill about Durell? Well, he’s smart, for one. We know this because a judge (Keith David) — exercising his federally appointed rights of bad exposition — muses that he once “scored higher on his SAT” than anyone else at his high school. Moreover, Durell is a devoted, if lacking, father to preteen Durell Jr. (C.J. Sanders). When his hectoring ex-wife (Regina Hall, in hula-hoop earrings) announces that she’s moving Durell Jr. to Atlanta, lacking the funds to keep her beauty shop afloat, Durell is genuinely hurt and infuriated. (When he wrinkles that heavy brow of his, Cube has as much visual presence as any leading man working today.) To keep his boy, he needs $17,000, stat.

Which brings us to the ill-executed central conceit of “First Sunday.” Following a high hemline into a church, Durell and LeeJohn stumble onto the bright idea of stealing the dirt-poor parish’s weekly tithe — stashed, serendipitously, in a safe above the chapel. Unfortunately, what promises to be a quirky, “Hidden Fortress”-style caper — in which Durell and LeeJohn run afoul of the colorful congregation — devolves into a comically inert standoff. As if to distract us, writer-director Talbert resorts to sex and shiny stereotypes: Katt Williams’ flamboyant (read: gay) choir director, Malinda Williams’ preacher’s-daughter curves.

There’s also a civics lesson of sorts, involving church funding, faith-flight and the primacy of black spirituality in inner-city life, but little of the clap-your-hands conviction that might make Durell’s inevitable redemption mean something. Hallelujah? Not.

REVIEW | "First Sunday"

Cast: Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Katt Williams, Regina Hall

Behind the scenes: Written and directed by David E. Talbert

Rated: PG-13 (profanity, some sexual humor and brief drug references), 96 minutes

Grade: C-

Contact Craig Outhier by email, or phone (480) 898-5683

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