I don’t know that much about rap, but apparently Ice Cube was really good at it. And that makes me feel better about what I have to say about his new movie “First Sunday,” an honest, though disastrous attempt at a meaningful family comedy.
Further attempting to build up the ill-fitting, unnecessary persona established in “Are We There Yet?” and its even more hapless sequel, Ice Cube plays Durell, a hardworking, down-on-his-luck man struggling to stay afloat. Threatened with the possibility of never seeing his son again when his mother decides she’ll have to move out of state to make a living, Durell needs to find $17,000 right away. His friend LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan, “30 Rock”) banks on a lucrative deal involving black market sales of pimped-out wheelchairs (complete with custom leather and 24-inch rims), but when that goes awry, Durell and LeeJohn are left more desperate than ever.
And desperate people do desperate things. For Durell and LeeJohn, that means breaking into a church and stealing from its vault. That’s not as easy as it may seem. Through their ordeal, the two friends will learn to do the right thing, and at least one of them will possibly find Jesus, but the laughs are thin and the moral undertones are about as perceptive as the foreign affairs suppositions of “xXx: State of the Union.”
This movie wants to do the right thing, which is commendable, and there’s certainly an attempt made to criticize the selfish, near-sighted thinking that leads people to their own destruction. However, trivialized and watered-down to a mind-numbing degree, the message is easily ignored, while the sophomoric gags and one-liners keep coming. There are funny moments, of course, just not nearly enough to lift the film to the status of anything more than a wasted Friday evening.
Ice Cube, who, to be fair, has seen better acting days (“Three Kings,” “Friday”), hardly has the emotional wherewithal to sustain a two-minute father/son heart-to-heart on screen, let alone an entire movie built around the concept of a well-meaning father struggling for his son. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a soft side – I’m sure he does, and I’m sure it’s great – but this simply isn’t a role he is suited for, or one that he can excel in. While Will Smith may have the versatility to pull off a tear-jerker like “The Pursuit of Happyness” in addition to throwing down in “Independence Day,” most other actors should be content with finding one screen persona that works for them and sticking with it.
Morgan – the former “Saturday Night Live” standout who has recently gained credibility amongst the wine and cheese crowd for his spot-on satire in “30 Rock” – has generally been a non-factor in his big screen performances, limited to banal roles such as an effeminate inmate in “The Longest Yard” and the guy who keeps asking “Is ‘Martin’ on yet?” in “Head of State.” Here, in what is his first starring film role, he is wasted in ironically the same type of derogatory, meaningless comedic antics that he pokes fun at in “30 Rock.” His character feigns depth and seems genuinely likeable, but, hung up in between empty drama and equally vapid jokes, there’s almost nothing here to make him worth watching.
The standards aren’t all that high on a film like “First Sunday.” Regardless of what old, purist critics may say (and they haven’t said anything good), this film is a success if it makes people laugh. The problem is that it fails to do that while trivializing its wholesome premise and well-meaning cast.
Rating 1 out of 5 stars
At Quality 16 and Showcase