Much like horror and teen comedies, there's now a bandwagon for Tyler Perry's brand of cinema. It's something we're just stuck with for the next three years, but if the results are all as semi-charming as "First Sunday," the coming screen storm might not be so horrific.
In debt up to his eyeballs, Durell (Ice Cube) takes the lead from buffoonish buddy LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan) and follows him into a wheelchair scam, where the two are promptly arrested and sent before a judge. Handed 5,000 hours of community service, the duo find themselves picking up trash in front of a ramshackle church, currently in the midst of raising money for relocation. Smelling piles of donation cash, Durell and LeeJohn break into the church one night, only to stumble upon a congregation meeting, which leads to a hostage situation that Durell fears might separate him for good from his beloved son.
It's unfair to compare writer/director David E. Talbert to Tyler Perry, since the man has given birth to his own three-ring circus of inspirational theater, profiting wildly off rafter-quaking acts of love and redemption. "Sunday" is his first major screen effort and it has all the ingredients he's comfortable with: heavy religious overtones, conflicted characters, and broad sections of comedy. After being burned by Perry as his gulag of misery for years now, I was obviously not looking forward to another bullet fired from the urban inspirational gun.
However, "First Sunday" turns out to be a surprise that mixes dangerous racial stereotypes with mildly heartwarming material, forming an amusing, if not actually good, motion picture. It's difficult to excuse a majority of the film, which seems consumed with lowbrow humor and contrived writing, but Talbert's execution is energetic, leaving plenty of the heavy lifting in the hands of the actors, who go a long way to make "Sunday" palatable.
While Cube is expectedly thuggish and Morgan clowns mercilessly (with the exception of one tender birthday moment), the majority of the picture belongs to Katt Williams, here in a supporting role as the terrified church choir director. Doing nothing more than ad-libbing his way up and down the picture, Williams adds a swell of comedic vigor to the material, which ends up cutting the film's sentiment wonderfully, balancing out Talbert's syrupy reach.
"Sunday" slathers on the messages of salvation by film's end, but it's not as unpleasant as it sounds. It's communicated in aggravatingly obvious tones, but never spills over into annoyance. It's positivity at a reasonable volume, unlike Perry's films, which have the sensory explosion of a Who concert sans earplugs. "First Sunday" is harmless, church-approved optimism with just enough bawdy behavior to keep general audiences attentive to the lessons on right and wrong and urban fatherhood participation. It's medicine, but it's far more agreeable than I expected.
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