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King's Ransom

New Line // PG-13 // July 26, 2005
List Price: $27.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted August 1, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

You could search far and wide for a theatrical release-earning comedy that's this astonishingly bereft of laughs. Although I'm a huge fan of the "breathless ensemble farce" sub-genre of comedy, the simple truth is that King's Ransom is about as funny as Schindler's List. It's a whole lot of sound and frenzy signifying not much more than desperation, and a solid handful of funny folks are left floundering like so many near-dead mackerel.

King's Ransom (the flick's title is easily the cleverest thing it has to offer) is a kidnapping comedy in which several completely unlikable jerks, gold-diggers, and outright morons bounce around within a series of barely-connected scenes as freakishly unfunny material gets lobbed at the screen. It's one of those movies in which one obnoxious lout of a millionaire gets kidnapped by a series of brain-dead imbeciles while an allegedly kooky cast of supporting characters do what they can to muck up the situation. Millionaire Malcolm King plans to fake his own kidnapping, but his wife, his co-workers, and one random schlub all plan to beat him to the punch. You could basically fill in the remaining "hijinks ensue" blanks without ever having seen the movie. Better, yet, just imagine Ruthless People combined with the bottom of an overused ashtray, and you're halfway to understanding how dire this drably directed and atrociously written junk heap actually is.

Few things are more interminable than a "frantic farce" that tries real hard and yields very few laughs -- but I can think of one: King's Ransom doesn't even deliver that "trying real hard" sort of vibe, and the movie manages to humiliate at least a half-dozen performers that really ought to know a little better. Take the always likable and seriously funny Donald Faison; think about what Don brings to Clueless and Scrubs -- and then be prepared to cringe as Mr. Faison is remanded to a pointless background role that doesn't even come close to showcasing his comedic talents. Kellita Smith, Jay Mohr, Loretta Devine, Regina Hall ... talented folks all, but you sure as hell wouldn't know it from watching King's Ransom.

The center-stage Anthony Anderson is another perfect example. Anthony's like mashed potatoes; on the side he can be an absolute joy ... but c'mon, who wants to eat a whole entire plate of mashed potatoes? Although Mr. Anderson can often pop up in a flick and deliver some great chuckles, asking the guy to anchor his own movie is kind of a joke. As the hateful tycoon Malcolm King, he's nothing but a big bag of angry bluster. Who thought this was the right kind of role for a semi-lovable lug like Anthony Anderson?

King's Ransom falls prey to one of the oldest and most basic missteps in the world of comedy: If all your characters are jerks, sluts, bastards, and abusers -- then who is the audience meant to root for? Putting aside the fact that this movie is laden with only the most groan-worthy material imaginable, there's simply nobody to like. So by the time you hit the 30-minute mark of King's Ransom, you'll be wishing it was an action flick in which all the characters end up dead a la True Romance. Or, better yet, a horror flick similar to Friday the 13th.

I could go on about the remarkably pedestrian way in which the flick is directed, the painfully predictable characterizations and plot divergences, or the desperately ineffective punch-lines, but I promised myself to end this review before it became longer than the King's Ransom screenplay. Bottom line is this: If you're considering this flick as a rental because you're a fan of one or two of the cast members -- don't even bother. Trust me.


Video: The Widescreen (1.85:1) Anamorphic transfer is, far and away, the most impressive thing about the package. Picture quality is quite solid, but then again ... I can't think of any good reason that it shouldn't be; flick's four months old.

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0, with optional subtitles available in English or Spanish. Aural presentation is fine; it's the actual sounds that are so damn awful.


First up is an audio commentary with director Jeff Byrd and actors Anthony Anderson & Jay Mohr. Recorded just a few months before King's Ransom crashed and burned at the box office, this jocular commentary is just a bit more entertaining than the 5.1 track. Mr. Anderson seems just a mite too pleased with himself here, but Mohr manages to keep things goofy. The director reins the actors in once in a while and offers some dry bit of pointless observation about the film. (Hey, they make movies in Montreal now!)

Proof that King's Ransom was constructed with a lot of craftsmanship and delicate care is a collection of 22 (!) deleted scenes. (OK, the last deleted scene is actually a 7.5-minute Gag Reel, but it's just as aggressively unfunny as the rest of the excised material.)

Down and Dirty is a 43-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that unwittingly sheds some solid light onto what a slipshod, half-assed, and harried production this was. Anderson proudly admits that there will be "no rehearsing," Anderson & Ms. Hall are told by director Jeff Byrd that instead of having a completely scripted sequence, they'll instead be asked to make "stuff" up. (Neither actor seems all that aware of what sort of "stuff" will be required, as if they've no idea what the movie is even about.)

Also very illuminating is a section in which a few New Line execs stop by and pretty much disembowel the entire movie just so they can claim that always-so-important PG-13 rating. Surely this is how art gets made. Glad to see that "marketing over storytelling" yields such effective results, fellas. And frankly I'm a little bit surprised that New Line opted to include this material on the DVD. Watching their young exec as he basically censors the entire movie is actually kind of creepy. (Punchline: King's Ransom earned barely $4 million from over 1,500 screens.)

And then it's on to a seemingly endless series of on-set interviews, forced banter, and lots of self-delusion from cast & crew members alike.

Rounding out this chore of a DVD is a trailer gallery in which King's Ransom, Hair Show, The Year of the Yao, and Monster-in-Law get some promo time.

Final Thoughts

It's just a big stinky mess of a comedy. The thing looks like it was written in a week, directed in two, and forgotten about by all involved in less than three. King's Ransom is proof that it takes a whole lot more than just a few overacting goofballs and a paper-thin kidnapping premise to craft a winning comedy.

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