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First Sunday

Apart from a few admittedly uproarious moments, First Sunday is somewhat blasphemous--to the church and to comedy. That said, we've been subjected to a lot worse in Januarys past.


Meet Durell (Ice Cube) and LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan), lifelong friends who aren't exactly the churchgoing type. But with each strapped for cash due to their respective financial crises--Durell's "baby mama" (Regina Hall) is threatening to move their son (C.J. Sanders) to Atlanta unless he starts chipping in; LeeJohn owes thousands to the gangsters whose wheelchairs he wrecked (yes, you read that right)--the two decide to loosen their stance on the house of God for the sake of cash. LeeJohn hatches a scheme in which he and Durell would rob Baltimore's First Hope Church, and after briefly contesting the notion, Durell relents. But as, er, God would have it, they break into the church on a night when everyone is still inside, and what a motley crew it turns out to be. There's the pastor (Chi McBride); his tempting daughter (Malinda Williams); the zany choir director (Katt Williams); the morally ambiguous deacon (Michael Beach); and a righteous congregation member (Loretta Devine), among others. They all make compelling pitches to Durell and LeeJohn on why not to go through with the robbery, but there's another problem: The money's already gone!


Ice Cube continues to prove that there is virtually no movie that doesn't suit him--as long as he can play pretty much the same character: the straight-ish man (usually offsetting a kooky costar) caught in an avoidable situation. In Sunday, Durell is that aw-shucks voice of reason Cube plays so often, albeit well and in very likable fashion. Whether Cube is hesitant to stray from his fans' expectations or he simply has limited range, the actor/rapper is certain to reprise this kind of role time and again--just in case you happen to miss out on Sunday. As Cube's dimwitted cohort, Morgan is his typical hit-or-miss self, occasionally nailing the physical comedy but often too outlandish everywhere else. Comedian Williams, meanwhile, will have audiences in stitches to the point that they'll be laughing out of sheer expectation, before he even says anything. His performance is funny, sometimes even hilarious, but frankly not quite deserving of the theater-wide howling it causes. Elsewhere, Beach (Soul Food) overacts while Scary Movie's Hall is underused.


First Sunday, with its generic unevenness, reeks of a feature-film debut, and that's just what it is for writer/director David E. Talbert. It's no coincidence either that the wrong/righteousness dynamic comes off as a bit of a Tyler Perry rip-off, because Talbert, like Perry, is something of a legend in the theater (and straight-to-DVD) community for his Christian-themed productions. Ultimately, Sunday isn't a disastrous first foray into movies. Talbert, to his credit, keeps things moving at a very brisk pace, even if they usually don't work or if they work in a way we've seen a million times. And he executes the few genuinely laugh-out-loud moments to perfection. But the feel-good-in-the-name-of-God theme is highly clichéd and flawed. It's actually a script cop-out in some ways, and it's not the only cop-out Talbert resorts to: He constantly implements music to try and set the mood, even if it's the wrong mood for the scene, and as the story progresses--or, one could argue, regresses--he cuts to Katt Williams' shtick with increasing frequency, as though pleading for diversions via laughter.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 stars.