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Kingdom Come  

Cast: LL Cool J...............Ray Bud
Vivica Fox..............Lucille
Whoopi Goldberg.........Raynelle Slocumb
Jada Pinkett Smith......Charisse
Loretta Devine..........Marguerite
Toni Braxton............Juanita
Cedric the Entertainer..Reverend Hooker
Anthony Anderson........Junior
Darius McCrary..........Royce

Directed by: Doug McHenry

Rated PG for thematic elements, language and sensuality

There's really nothing wrong with a story's narrative arc being obvious at the outset. In fact, sometimes it can be a great help in facilitating a movie's message. But when the message itself is obvious at the outset ... well, that can be rather damaging, especially if the filmmakers don't layer their story with additional elements of growth. "Kingdom Come" is a prime example of the latter. It's certainly not a bad movie. My only problem was that after the first five minutes, I knew where it was headed and what message was going to be conveyed. Sadly, I spent much of the film's running time waiting for the story to catch up.

The film uses the somewhat reliable yet very familiar premise of an extended family having to come together when the patriarch suddenly loses his life to a stroke. We are introduced to each household as their disfunctions are displayed with over-the-top zeal. There's Ray Bud (LL Cool J) and his wife Lucille (Vivica A. Fox). Ray concerns himself more with the monetary implications of the funeral as a way to mask his emotional difficulty in handling the loss. The couple are also heavily feeling the effects of a recent miscarriage. And he's not looking forward to the arrival of his brother's family.

His brother, Junior (Anthony Anderson) is like a magnet for bad luck. His career has basically been a series of failed moneymaking schemes. Now he's broke with three kids to feed, and his histrionic wife Charisse (Jada Pinkett Smith) periodically unleashes vitriolic diatribes letting him know how unreliable her husband has become.

Meanwhile, the scripture-quoting Marguerite (Loretta Devine) is growing increasingly furious at her son Royce (Darius McCrary) for his lack of lucidity with regards to his life direction. At this point, his only future goal is to settle down with a nice young woman and have a few kids ... so he may get on welfare.

At the center of this disfunctional tree is the widow, Raynelle Slocumb (Whoopi Goldberg). Her only request is for the phrase "mean and surly" to be etched on her late husband's tombstone. The quirks of this family will conspire to wreak havoc on the funeral proceedings while the family must look beyond their differences to uncover the necessary life lessons.

The film wants to combine bouts of raunchy comedy with moments of sentimental insight, but telegraphing its heartfelt message at the outset causes the story to sink or swim with its varied bits of humor. Some of it works, some of it doesn't. The screenplay does contain some very funny lines. ("It's good that he went quickly," an overly-sympathetic and intoxicated friend says to the disinterested Raynelle. "That's how I'd want to go ... quick," to which she replies, "That's what I'd want for you, too.") But some elements aren't as effective, including the decision by gifted funnyman Cedric the Entertainer to employ a lisp for his role as the Reverend. It's mildly amusing, but quickly wears thin.

Beneath the hit-and-miss humor lies the movie's benevolent message. Because many of us spend so much time struggling with the reasons behind our most potent feelings, we sometimes fall victim to judging ourselves for the emotions that occasionally subjugate our psyche. Being comfortable with our own insecurities is certainly a frustrating contradiction, but one that has permanently set up shop in the human condition. I admired the movie's need to convey the above notion, I just wish it hadn't hit me immediately after the opening credits.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney

Critically Ill

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