Saturday, January 12, 2008

First Sunday

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Crooks Conspire to Rob Church in Demeaning Minstrel Show

When a movie resuscitates this many offensive African-American stereotypes, you half expect somebody to be passing out watermelons and barbecuing ribs right in the lobby of the theater. I had problems with virtually every aspect of First Sunday, starting with its basic premise. The plot revolves around a couple of petty thieves, Durell (Ice Cube) and LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan), who hatch a plan to rob a house of worship after overhearing that its congregation had had finally collected enough money to break ground on a new church.
It’s bad enough that these creepy heathens wouldn’t hesitate to steal from the Lord, but what’s worse are their reasons for needing the money. Durell is so far behind in child support that his ex, Omunique (Regina Hall), is threatening to move from Baltimore to Atlanta with their young son (C.J. Sanders) unless her deadbeat baby-daddy comes up with $17,342. Meanwhile, LeeJohn is on the run from Rastafarians because of a black market business deal gone bad.
By now, you might have noticed that some of the characters have strange names. LeeJohn explains that he got his because his mother was a tramp who had been sleeping with two men at the time she got pregnant, and she didn’t know whether the father was Lee or John. Omunique’s is pronounced “I’m unique” and is no doubt a throwback to 19th Century minstrel shows when white men sporting similarly silly-sounding names appeared in blackface as caricatures of African-Americans, invariably portraying them as some combination of lazy, cowardly, stupid, immoral, criminal and buffoonish.
Besides reviving ridiculous, minstrel-like monikers, First Sunday is a crass coon show which resuscitates the outlawed genre’s general themes and demeaning dialogue. Most guilty in this regard is Katt Williams in his capacity as Rickey, the First Hope Community Church’s flamboyant choir director.
Rickey is an ignoramus given to blurting out inane non-sequiturs which fail to further the story and whose only apparent purpose is to make the audience laugh out loud. For example, there’s a court room scene where a judge (Keith David) sitting on the bench calls the defendants “miscreants.” Rickey’s response is to sass the jurist by asserting that they’re not miscreants but African-Americans,” the joke being that he obviously doesn’t have a clue what the word means.
He repeatedly employs makes malapropisms, such as confusing “affecting” with “infecting.” While being held hostage, he’s cowardly (“This isn’t even my church. I just saw this on MySpace.”), he feints, and generally behaves like a buffoon (“I’m gonna need therapy!”).
The performances of co-stars Tracy Morgan and Ice Cube aren’t any better as the self-hating antics as the bumbling burglars. In sum, if you still like to laugh at the sight of a black man in a dress, at lines about nappy hair (“Your hair looks like an S.O.S. pad!’) and at African-Americans pretending to be mildly retarded, you’re apt to find First Sunday hilarious.
A cringe-inducing, cinematic tribute to the Golden Age of Minstrelsy!

Poor (0 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexual humor and drug references.
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio: Screen Gems

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