At various times during "King's Ransom," the film recalls memories of, in no certain order, 1986's "Ruthless People," 1998's "Very Bad Things
," 2001's "Sugar and Spice
," and 2003's "Malibu's Most Wanted
." The latter, coincidentally, shared two of this picture's co-starsAnthony Anderson and Regina Halland is so closely reminiscent that former audiences of that Jamie Kennedy vehicle may experience deja vu
. A somewhat dark, emotionally coarse comedy about a whole lot of attempted kidnappings and even more unsavory people, there is a cutthroat nature to "King's Ransom" always threatening to break free that never does. Were the content and tone just a tad more ferocious, this could have been the next "Very Bad Things
," one of the most merciless, brilliantly un-PC movies to come out of the studio system in the last decade. As is, "King's Ransom" is unobtrusive and virtually painless as an occasionally witty laugher, but lacks the courage of its convictionsand a much-needed R-ratingto follow through with its less commercial ambitions.
Shamelessly self-involved business CEO Malcolm King (Anthony Anderson) is despised by almost everyone, including his newly ex-wife, Renee (Kellita Smith), who is in the early stages of bleeding him dry of his fortune, and ambitious company underling Angela (Nicole Parker), who quits in a rage after being turned down for a promotion. In a sneaky, complicated plot to cut Renee's gold-digging ways off at the pass, Malcolm enlists the help of his sexy, dumb-as-a-box-of-hair employee/mistress, Peaches (Regina Hall), and her convict brother, Herb (Charlie Murphy), to stage his own kidnapping and demand a ransom that Malcolm plans to pay to himself. What Malcolm doesn't realize is that those around him have separately designed similar schemes to kidnap him. Thus, when he turns up in the basement of unlikely kidnapper Corey (Jay Mohr), he incorrectly assumes that this down-on-his-luck failure is Peaches' brother come to do the job.
Directed by Jeff Byrd with a streak of comedic flair superimposed over a dearth of originality, "King's Ransom" begins with what has become one of the biggest, most mind-boggling cliches of the so-called "urban" comedy genrean aerial view of a cityscape and a radio deejay narration while the opening titles run. Things go uphill from here, at least for a while, as the colorful ensemble are introduced and the plot springs into motion. The core idea of a wide array of people unknowingly planning to kidnap and hold for ransom a CEO all at the same time is an admittedly fresh one, but the film disappointingly discards it by the halfway point and the proceedings dissolve into a more banal hostage picture that simply spins its wheels. Even more problematic is the impossibility of caring about how things are going to turn out, as nearly every character is unsavory and lacking even a vague moral compass.
Leave it to the cast, uniformly bright and talented for such an inconsequential farce, to breathe life and charisma into their scenes. Anthony Anderson (2003's "Kangaroo Jack
") is despicably big-headed as Malcolm King, the victim of the multiple kidnappings, but he seems to be having fun playing against-type in one of his biggest film roles, to date. He is especially good when explaining his devious scheme to Peaches by way of an elaborately illustrated flip comic he has drawn up. Even better are the supporting players, with the too often unsung Regina Hall (2003's "Scary Movie 3
") stealing scenes left and right, and getting some of the most memorable guffaws, as the joyously dim-witted Peaches. Note to Hollywood execs: cast this treasure of an actress in a lead role of her own. As Malcolm's doggedly loyal assistant, Miss Gladys, Loretta Devine (2000's "Urban Legends: Final Cut
") equals Hall in her sparkling comic abilities; few thespians can recite one-liners with the level of snap, sass, and honesty as Devine.
Also making an impression are Nicole Parker (2000's "Remember the Titans
"), as the determined, power-hungry Angela, who is shielding some skeletons in her own closet; Kellita Smith (TV's "The Bernie Mac Show"), as Malcolm's high-strung ex, Angela; and Donald Faison (2003's "Uptown Girls
," TV's "Scrubs"), as innocently booty-obsessed parking garage attendant Andre. Jay Mohr (2005's "Are We There Yet?
"), meanwhile, continues his downward spiral of uninspired performances as Corey, one of the least likely kidnappers in history.
Once the setting switches primarily to Corey's basement and the film becomes reliant on the back-and-forth between he and Malcolm, "King's Ransom" slows down and loses sight of some of its best characters, most notably Peaches. By the final fifteen minutes, which includes the thoroughly unfunny attack by Corey on a fast food employee who has stolen his job as a costumed hamburger, it has halted to a stop and worn out its welcome. "King's Ransom" has its moments, to be sure, but director Jeff Byrd and screenwriter Wayne Conley deal their most promising cards too soon and are finally left with nothing of interest for its characters to do or say. As hired actors, they are at the mercy of a project well beneath their abilities. It deserves to be mentioned, however, that "King's Ransom" ends with perhaps the most cynical, strange postscript ever to be found on a studio comedy: "They divorced six months later." In a motion picture lacking much boldness, this divergence from the norm is, at least, worth a little something. It also arrives far too late to make but a passing impact on what is a project of wasted potential.