“First Sunday” is the latest modern urban life comedy trying to inject humor and humanity into the sometimes-shallow-sometimes-not backdrop of African-American life in the inner city. As an example of the genre (and make no mistake, it’s certainly become a genre of its own over the last decade) “First Sunday” is somewhere in the middle in terms of humor and shallowness.
“First Sunday” is anchored by Ice Cube’s Durell in his latest comedic starring role, a strange sentence to type considering that in the majority of his comedies (which have recently become his bread and butter) he plays the straight man, which usually tends to be the easily replaceable sidekick to the bumbler or buffoon who provides the real comedy. Instead, Ice Cube is the steady presence supported by an ever revolving door of comics, in this case Tracey Morgan doing a version of the same dim-witted-guy-with-poor-impulse-control shtick that he’s been perfecting since “Saturday Night Live,” if not earlier, and while it works to great effect on “30 Rock” (largely due to an ever increasing level of absurdism), “First Sunday’s” watered down version of the same thing is about as successful as it sounds.
Which is unfortunate because he’s forced to carry most of the comedic material himself, as writer/director David E. Talbert (in his feature debut) has surrounded him with dramatic actors (Chi McBride, Michael Beach, Loretta Devine) more concerned with possible embezzlement in the church, than with comedic backup. He does get some assistance from Katt Williams as the church’s high-strung choir director, but Ricky isn’t as funny as Williams or Talbert seem to think he is. It’s not bad, but a little bit goes a long way.
Most of it, however, is centered on Durell and his overwhelming need to keep his son near him so that he can raise him properly in itself a laudable goal which keeps leading him to do bad (or at least extremely ill-advised) things, such as holding all the leaders of the church hostage while he tries to steal the collection money. Ice Cube’s never going to be the world’s best actor he has no real sense for subtlety or mannerism, every line seems to come out more or less the same, regardless of the context but he’s not terrible. He does earnestness very well and for the most that tends to be all that’s required of him in his comedies. It certainly is in “First Sunday,” but there’s enough of a decent story in there about personal responsibility and the bonds of community that are needed to keep the inner city from completely falling apart that Talbert is able to bring the thing in for a landing, if an unsteady one.
“First Sunday” isn’t an out and out bad film, but to be a good one it would need to either greatly raise the dramatic steaks, or push its comedic boundaries over the top in conception. Instead it treads water safely in the middle, and it shows.