Is Ice Cube capable of playing more than one type of character? Whether he's slumming it in the offensive "Friday" franchise
, the innocuous "Barbershop" series
, or in miserable family flicks like "Are We There Yet?
" and "Are We Done Yet?
" he retains the exact same gruff, scowling demeanor and grammatically incorrect language skills. Behind it all, we as the audience are supposed to see a heart of gold, but in "First Sunday," all that is seen is a career criminal who doesn't pay his child support, makes constant bad choices and has no business caring for his admiring young son, Durell Jr. (C.J. Sanders). Indeed, when fed-up ex-wife Omunique (Regina Hall) threatens to move with him to Atlanta when she has trouble making ends meet in Baltimore, the viewer crosses their fingers that she follows through with this so the senior Durell can finally get a taste of what a rotten example he's been to his son.
Of course, as drearily written and directed by David E. Talbert, "First Sunday" only scratches the surface of tackling this parent-child issue, and even then it is washed over with pat easy answers and ineffectively maudlin sentiments. In the meantime, the film is a screechingly stupid comedy that paints the African-American race in a negative, derogatory light and then tries to turn things around for an even more dimwitted third act that shamelessly sermonizes while taking far too many leaps in logic. There are a few cheap laughs to be hadmake that very fewbut most of the time chuckles are derived from how tacky and cornball the insulting plot and artificial emotions are.
A felon who, along with partner-in-crime LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan), is currently serving a sentence of five thousand hours of community service, Durell (Ice Cube) needs to find a way to make some big bucks fast if he hopes to keep Omunique and Durell Jr. from packing up for Georgia. His plan? To rob a nearby church's safe after hours and flee with the cash. The problem? They do not expect the pastor (Chi McBride), the deacon (Michael Beach), choir director Rickey (Katt Williams) and his singers, and various other church workersSister Doris (Loretta Devine) and the tightly-dressed Tianna (Malinda Williams)to show up while they're still there. Pretty soon, Durell and LeeJohn have a hostage situation on their hands, as well as an empty safe signaling that someone among them is the real thief.
Whether it be the deadbeat, objectifying Durell, bad-influence-turned-pushover wannabe pothead LeeJohn, outspoken motormouth Rickey, slinky Tianna, cross-dressing masseuse Mordecai (Martell Robinson) or Omunique's sassy, weave-wearin' friend (Tiffany Pollard), "First Sunday" is filled to bursting with pigeonholed black stereotypes. Most of the church members are more positively portrayed, particularly the caring, forgiving Sister Doris, but even as the film preaches Christian ethics, it doesn't miss a beat before Pastor Arthur Mitchell is willing to lie to authorities when the lot of them incorrectly decide that Durell and LeeJohn aren't that bad after all. Nevermind, though, that Durell has taped the pastor up to a chair, fired bullets into the church's ceiling and aimed the gun at his hostages for the last hour. Writer-director David E. Talbert's mixed messages are as trite as they are confused, and his happy-ending turnaround is as ridiculous and it is clueless. That Durell hasn't believably changed for the better makes no difference to Talbert, who only cares about sending the audience out on a soggy note where Durell looks to the heavens in appreciation for what he's got. Give me a break.
As Durell, Ice Cube plays one note, and even when he's intended to be likable he has the same angry look on his face. As LeeJohn, Tracy Morgan (2006's "Little Man
") is basically repeating his character on NBC's smart sitcom "30 Rock." As choir director Rickey, Katt Williams (2007's "The Perfect Holiday
") is quirky and broad, but mostly annoying. That leaves the wonderfully warm Loretta Devine (2007's "This Christmas
"), as Sister Doris, and the scene-stealing Regina Hall (2006's "Scary Movie 4
"), as the amusingly-named Omunique, to pick up the slack and add a bit of humanity to the proceedings. Unfortunately, they have no hand in a script that is beneath both of their talents.
Movies like "First Sunday"ones almost wholly devoid of wit and intelligenceare what the month of January was made for. Without the commercial prospects of making it during the holiday season and certainly far from Oscar material, the picture will be in and out of theaters by February and in and out of people's memories by March. Comedies don't have to be high in class as long as they are funny, entertaining and do not treat their audience like imbeciles. "First Sunday" fails all three of these qualifications.