Ice Cube heats up a raucous comedy that's half farce, half heartwarmer.
The rowdy ghetto comedy "First Sunday" is a sort of greatest-hits vehicle for Ice Cube. As Durell, a harried estranged dad who turns to crime for cash that will keep his baby momma from leaving town with his adoring son, Cube reprises the sneering gangster he played so successfully as a rap artist, and the family-friendly father figure of his recent movie career. The film, written and directed by urban theater circuit playwright David E. Talbert, is far from polished, but it has a rambunctious energy that's hard to resist.
When his ex loses her beauty shop lease, Durell has to come up with $17,000 fast. He's enterprising and mostly honest, but his jail record disqualifies him for straight employment. His knucklehead buddy LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan), in debt to some sinister Rastafarians over a scheme involving wheelchairs with spinny rims, suggests they burglarize a neighborhood church, and the comic machinery is set in motion.
Breaking in, the guys encounter a board meeting in progress, a choir practice and even a deaf-and-blind handyman to complicate the situation. With the collection money nowhere to be found, the robbers lock the doors and look to the hostages for answers. The situation turns into a revivalist riff on "Dog Day Afternoon" as the pastor (Chi McBride) and his flock use the standoff to gradually regenerate the crooks.
The convoluted story careens from bawdy farce to slapstick caper to mystery to preachifying Christian dramedy, yet Talbert rarely lets the momentum flag. The church staffers and parishioners are distinctive comic characters, and the cast is packed with strong players. Michael Beach is the hypocritical deacon who wants to move the inner-city church to a more secure suburban location; comedian Katt Williams is a howl as the prissy choir director, and Olivia Cole and Loretta Devine are as warm as a hug playing church ladies who hold out the hope of salvation to the basically decent crooks.
There are glaring breaks in continuity -- comic Rickey Smiley has a funny turn as an elderly female hostage who abruptly disappears -- but the silly vibe endures. Durell and LeeJohn plot their caper in a pancake house that bears a hand-lettered sign announcing, "Out of pancakes." Without any comment on the situation they sit down to two plates of toast that are charred to a crisp. Even the throwaway touches are ticklishly funny.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186