[Screen It]

(2001) (LL Cool J, Jada Pinkett Smith) (PG)

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Comedy: Various members of a somewhat dysfunctional family assemble for the patriarch's funeral and try to deal with their various issues and problems with each other.
On a hot summer day in the town of Lula, family patriarch Woodrow "Bud" Slocumb keels over from a stroke, an incident that surprises but doesn't terribly upset his wife, Raynelle (WHOOPI GOLDBERG). That's because she claims he was nothing but mean and surly for most of their marriage, although one night of passion resulted in their young adult daughter, Delightful (MASASA).

The word of the death soon spreads throughout the family with the various members then assembling for the funeral. Among them is Ray Bud Slocumb (LL COOL J), who never got along with his father and hates funerals, and his wife Lucille (VIVICA A. FOX) who's still upset about her latest miscarriage. Ray's not happy that his broke and out of work brother, Junior (ANTHONY ANDERSON), along with his wife, Charisse (JADA PINKETT SMITH), and three kids will be staying with them, particularly since Charisse has just discovered another pair of woman's earrings in the backseat of their car.

Then there's Marguerite (LORETTA DEVINE), Woodrow's scripture-spouting sister who's upset with the way her adult son, Royce (DARIUS McCRARY), is leading his life and hopes to live off welfare. Wealthy family relative Juanita Slocumb (TONI BRAXTON) also arrives on the scene, as does Ray's boss, Clyde (RICHARD GANT), who's rarely seen without a beer in his hands.

As Reverend Hooker (CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER) consoles the family and prepares the service, they must deal with greedy funeral home directors Antoine (DOMINIC HOFFMAN) and Merline Depew (PATRICE MONCELL) as well as their differing opinions and family squabbles.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
As most any writer knows, if one wants a good story - be it a drama, comedy or combination of both - certain amounts of conflict need to be present because any tale where everyone gets along is boring to behold and rarely entertaining. Of course, one need not have anything as grandiose as Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker or the WWII Nazis battling the Allies to generate such strife.

Instead, there simply needs to be two or more people with opposing opinions, beliefs or attitudes to get the ball rolling. It's usually also wise to have some sort of catalyst to bring those opposing parties together that will then fuel the fire, so to speak, of such conflict.

When considering family and friend related stories, such conflict often stems from the concept of characters gathering for the holidays - as was the case in "Home For the Holidays" and "What's Cooking?" - or social events or ceremonies along the lines of wedding or funerals as was the case in "The Big Chill" and "Four Wedding and a Funeral."

The fun part of either from a cinematic standpoint is that such events often offer their share of both laughs and tears - or at least attempt to do so - and play off the contradiction of happy events going comically wrong or turning sad and funerals sometimes being funny or leading to humorous occurrences. The latter is the attempt of "Kingdom Come," the mildly amusing and occasionally strained comedy/drama about a dysfunctional family brought together by the death of the little loved family patriarch.

As with many such family-based films, this one contains a large cast of characters that do their thing in a series of individual plotlines that run in parallel with the main funeral plot and often crisscross into each other. Some of those plotlines and characters work better than others, with several of them feeling rather forced in both construction and the way in which the performers then play their characters.

The worst such offender is the plot thread dealing with Anthony Anderson ("See Spot Run," "Romeo Must Die") and Jada Pinkett Smith ("Bamboozled," "The Nutty Professor") as a couple whose marriage is on the rocks, not only due to her recent discovery of his infidelity, but also their obvious incompatibility.

Both performers over-exaggerate the way in which they play their characters, and while that's intentional, the effect is far more irritating than it is funny. As a result, not only do we not care about them and their marriage, but they come off feeling more like caricatures than real people and their whole plot thread - of him trying to make amends with her for most of the film - is just as grating as the related performances.

More successful is the story dealing with the married couple played by LL Cool J ("Any Given Sunday," "Deep Blue Sea") and Vivica A. Fox ("Double Take," "Soul Food"). While the trying to have a family/miscarriage subplot feels a bit like a tacked on element to give their story more resonance and/or emotional depth, their characters otherwise come off as more credible and entertaining than most of the rest of the cast.

The funniest story element - at least for a while - concerns that of Loretta Devine ("Down in the Delta," "Waiting to Exhale") and Darius McCrary ("15 Minutes," "Mississippi Burning") as a mother/son pairing where the humor stems from her strong religious convictions and his less than holy lifestyle and demeanor.

While director Doug McHenry ("Jason's Lyric," co-director of "House Party 2") and novice screenwriters David Dean Bottrell & Jessie Jones (who've based their script on their stage play "Dearly Departed") may have wisely pulled the plug on their odd couple pairing before they ran it into the ground, it's somewhat disappointing that their bickering banter evaporates long before the story ends.

Whoopi Goldberg ("Monkeybone," "Ghost") gets to play the widow, a part that doesn't ask much of her beyond expressing a near constant look of constipated tolerance for her family's behavior mixed with some grief, but she's nevertheless decent in the role.

Cedric The Entertainer ("The Original Kings of Comedy," "Ride") appears as the reverend with a lisp and some gastrointestinal distress - both of which are somewhat juvenile in nature in their approach at general laughs, while singer turned actress Toni Braxton (making her acting debut) is seemingly present just to belt out a tune during the funeral ceremony.

Although there are some funny moments to be had, the filmmakers seemed to have spent more time obviously crafting each character to be different and represent a differing human foible, rather than milk the entire funeral process and related family dynamics for everything they're worth.

Since the barely seen patriarch is noted as being unlikable, I kept expecting to hear more anecdotes about his behavior or hear and/or see his will on videotape - addressing the various family members - but that never occurs. Nor does much of anything imaginative occur regarding the funeral preparations or ceremony - beyond having the deceased wearing dancing footwear while on display and the aforementioned intestinal problems the preacher experiences - both of which are clearly loaded with potential for generating some laughs.

While the film wraps up its various storylines with happy, if somewhat sloppy endings (from both a narrative and technical standpoint), the overall results are only moderately entertaining. Feeling like one of those pictures that has the rough potential but doesn't manage to deliver the polished goods due to its lack of those fine details and touches that make great or even just good films stand out, "Kingdom Come" has its moments, but clearly isn't as good or funny as it could have been. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed April 2, 2001 / Posted April 11, 2001

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