"Kings of the Evening" is a heartfelt story about a group of African-Americans trying to make their way in the South during the great depression. Inspired by actual events, the film manages to bring to life a story filled not only with harsh realities, but also glimpses of hope during even the harshest times. The film opens with Homer Hobbs (Tyson Beckford) working on the chain gang after stealing worn-out tires that no one would buy. He's released and makes his way to a nearby town where he meets Benny Potter (Reginald T. Dorsey), who offers to help find him a place to stay, as well as prospects for work in exchange for a commission. In need of a place to stay, Homer agrees and they make their way to Gracie's boarding house.
It's at Gracie's (Lynn Whitfield) where everyone comes together to live and act as a family of sorts. Also at Gracie's is Clarence (Glynn Turman), who hasn't paid rent in over a month because he's waiting on his government check. He once played in the pit at vaudeville theaters, but when times changed he found himself living in the past and slowly becoming depressed. Finally there's Lucy (Linara Washington), a young woman who spends her time making dresses and saving to one day have her own dress shop. Lucy has other things to worry about though, including a shady man who claims Lucy owes him money from her ex-husband's past debts.
The film is about the characters and about a Sunday night event at the social hall called fashion night. At fashion night, "A man can look like a million, even if he doesn't have a dime" and "When a man can stand up to the mirror, he can stand up to life." The fashion show takes place every week and whomever is dressed the best is crowned "King of the Evening." Runner ups receive goods like loaves of bread, meat, tickets to the theater, and the winner receives 5 dollars. While the idea of a fashion show being a pivotal element in the film may seem strange, it actually works really well. It takes the core of the film and the exploration of honor, self-respect and feeling good about who you are no matter what you're faced with and presents it in a new and interesting way.
There are several nice moment throughout the film that demonstrate the human spirit and kindness in even the bleakest times. A great example being when Lucy is late to her job and her boss says he must deduct 15 cents from her pay. In secret, her co-workers gather change to help her make up for the loss. The film not only explores the struggles of the 1930's, but it also explores what makes a person strive for more, and what ignites their passion. For Lucy it's her dressmaking, for Clarence it's finding respect and becoming King of the Evening, and for Homer it's playing the trumpet and leading an honorable life.
"Kings of the Evening" feels like a stage play at times, which adds to its appeal. With memorable characters, a moving message, conflicts and resolutions, the film draws you in at 99 minutes and doesn't overstay its welcome. The film by Andrew P. Jones is well written and very well acted. Clarence and Gracie are the most engaging characters in the film, and Whitfield and Turman offer moving performances. While some of the messages aren't subtle, "Kings of the Evening" manages to present them, the character's storylines, and the 1930's era in an engaging way.
VIDEO: The film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The copy offered for review was on a DVD-ROM and may not be indicative of the final product. However, image quality was consistently satisfactory: while sharpness and detail was never impressive, the picture maintained decent definition despite a soft "period" look. Some minor pixelation and a few slight instances of print flaws were spotted, but the picture otherwise remained clean. Colors looked subdued, but appeared accurately presented.
SOUND: The film is offered with a subdued Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation that offered very limited surround use. Audio quality was fine, with a warm, well-recorded score and clear, natural dialogue.
EXTRAS: There were no extras included with this copy.
Final Thoughts: A sincere, well-acted drama, "Kings of the Evening" is worth a rental for fans of the actors.