First Sunday

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First Sunday
Review (-/10)
(By Garth Franklin)

After some horrific kiddie-targeted pratfalls ("Are We There/Done Yet") and action misfires ("XXX2"), Ice Cube returns to his "Friday" roots with 'Sunday', an attempt to fuse cornball slapstick and clean church humor with a basic uplifting story of redemption.

The result is a somewhat unfocused hodge podge of ideas. The story has two routinely unemployed friends, the goofy LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan) and the smarter and more strait-laced Durell (Ice Cube), robbing a local church for some quick and much needed cash. A should've been easy burglary becomes a drawn-out hostage crisis. Themes of urban decay, community and overcoming one's lot in life get rolled around with quirky stock characters engaged in manic verbal fisticuffs with our two bumbling leads.

It shouldn't work, yet somehow manages to hold together. Unlike Tyler Perry's strange fusion of soap opera style melodrama with almost cartoonish comedy, 'Sunday' feels more natural in its segways from Christian-approved family drama to lighthearted guffaws, helped by the fact that the humor remains clean and relatively positive throughout. It touches upon some real issues, even if it gives them only a quick swipe with predictable moral cliches.

The cast prove a decent lot. Tracy Morgan basically channels his "30 Rock" gift for physical humor but sadly lacks that show's great scripting to support him - getting his biggest laughs early on in a scene involving a transsexual masseuse. Cube just stands around snarling or acting indignant, but it suits him better playing the straight man opposite Jordan and Katt Williams' flamboyant choir leader. Keith David in a small role as a judge lends a welcome air of cynicism.

Still though it's often a slog to get through, especially during the drawn-out hostage crisis middle act which grinds the pace to a halt. Writer/director David E. Talbert fares well on the direction front with confidence in handling the camera, but his scripting skills leave a lot to be desired. His desire to create a family-safe, and ultimately hopeful movie is a positive one - but in doing so he relies on humorless gags, fortune cookie philosophy and cartoonish characters that zap. 'Sunday' is hardly a bad film, but like church - it's an utter bore.

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