[Screen It]

(2008) (Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan) (PG-13)

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Comedy: Desperate for money for different reasons, two lifelong friends decide to rob a church, but don't anticipate the complications that will arise.
Durrell Washington (ICE CUBE) and LeeJohn Jackson (TRACY MORGAN) are lifelong friends, but couldn't be more different. Durrell is talented at repairing mechanical things, but that didn't make him able to fix his marriage to Omunique (REGINA HALL). She's a hairstylist who's unable to pay the rent and thus plans to move from Baltimore to Atlanta to live with her mom. Of course, that means she'll be taking their son, Durrell Jr. (C.J. Sanders), with her, and his dad will have no part of that.

Unfortunately for him, LeeJohn's harebrained decision for them to transport some "hot" wheelchairs has not only left them in debt to some Jamaican thugs, but also in the custody of the police, with Judge B. Bennett Galloway (KEITH DAVID) sentencing the two to 5,000 hours of community service. That means Durrell can't leave the state and must come up with his ex-wife's rent to keep her from moving, while LeeJohn needs to reimburse the thugs or else.

While facing that dilemma, they're distracted by the sight of Tianna Mitchell (MALINDA WILLIAMS) and her tight skirt that leads them into the local church. She's the adult daughter of Pastor Mitchell (CHI McBRIDE) who, along with Deacon Randy (MICHAEL BEACH), is considering moving the congregation from its inner-city location to the presumably safer suburbs.

That isn't sitting well with church secretary Sister Doris McPherson (LORETTA DIVINE), choir director Rickey (KATT WILLIAMS) or other members, but that disagreement isn't what's gotten Durrell and LeeJohn's attention.

Instead, it's mention of the money the church has raised, and it isn't long before LeeJohn convinces Durrell that they should rob the place. When they attempt to do that, however, a series of comedic complications interrupt their plan, forcing them to take various members hostage as they try to get their hands on the money.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Professionals in the legal, social and psychological fields, as well as the average layperson, have long pondered, questioned, and/or studied what exactly makes criminals engage in that behavior and/or lifestyle. The reasons, of course, are practically endless, but mainly stem from a combination of greed, stupidity and desperation. On the flip side, they stop their ways due to being on the receiving end of violence, being caught and incarcerated, and/or having a change of heart.

What bothers some people about the latter is when it involves religion. And that's not just including non-believers, but also those who see accepting the Lord -- pardon the pun -- as a cop out for their previous illegal behavior. Of course, in most religions, the forgiveness comes from God and the perp must still face the legal system, but it still rubs some people the wrong way.

Yet, that's only a small irritant in the terms of overall chafing that occurs with "First Sunday," a -- pardon the pun again -- God-awful comedy that should offend just about everyone who sees it. The fact that the culminating, religious-based conversion is nothing but predictable is the least of the pic's sins. While writer/director David E. Talbert may get a break from the Big Guy upstairs due to having a background of religious-based urban theater, the secular court of cinematic opinion will find this offering guilty on all charges.

None of that stems from any particular bias against goofy comedies and/or sentimental, change of heart moments. Instead, it's just that Talbert and his cast bungle just about every aspect related to telling their tale. For instance, even in a lowbrow comedy, one must believe what occurs and is presented to get into the mood for what's to come.

Here, no one will ever buy into the notion that Durrell (Ice Cube) and LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan) are lifelong, best friends. There's no way that the former -- complete with his irritated scowl that he brings to most roles -- would put up with the stupid behavior offered by the latter (who delivers an affected performance second only to Katt Williams as, are you ready for this novelty, an effeminate choir director). Or that he'd buy into the criminal plan (to rob a church) even if he is desperate to keep his ex-wife from moving away to another state with their young son.

Although any number of simple script tweaks could have remedied some of that motivation (LeeJohn being his half-brother, his son desperately needing life-saving surgery, etc.), the film would have needed a mega-congregation of them to fix all of the other issues, with the main one being that the intended humor simply isn't funny. Or smart. Or inspired.

Rather than any of that, we get "pimped-out" wheelchairs, jokes at the expense of overweight people, close-up views of derrieres in tight garb, and other such garbage that's neither original nor even just amusing on the low level on which it's trying to exist.

If the film can't be fun, at least it can make us care about the characters, but this one fails in that aspect as well. With only Cube's onscreen alter ego getting a tiny bit of depth (since he cares about his son) while everyone else is a caricature or stereotype of one sort or another, there's no reason to become engaged by any of them, their stories, and/or their various plights.

With a lame general plot, unsuccessful attempts at being funny, and inept direction, those bad performances only add insult to injury. All of which makes one wonder whether even having religion is enough to get others to accept and forgive those responsible for such dreck. The jury is still out on that, but certainly not on this pitiful and laborious excuse for a comedy. "First Sunday" rates as a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed January 2, 2008 / Posted January 11, 2008

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