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'Kingdom Come'

'Kingdom' is an utterly charming hoot

Wednesday, April 11, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

The little California town of Lula is sweltering in summer, especially at Depew's Funeral Home ("Your Pit-Stop to the Afterlife"), where patriarch Bud Slocumb is the deceased star of the show and drawing card for an assembly of his dysfunctional clan.

"Kingdom Come"

RATING: PG for mild profanity

STARRING: LL Cool J, Whoopie Goldberg, Anthony Anderson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Vivica Fox, Darius McCrary, Loretta Devine, Cedric the Entertainer

DIRECTOR: Doug McHenry




The raucously comic, touchingly human goings-on that surround his funeral are the focus of "Kingdom Come," a fine slice of black life -- of American life -- from director Doug McHenry.

Big, bumbling Junior (Anthony Anderson), for example, is driven crazy by his three screaming kids and his kvetching wife, Charisse (Jada Pinkett Smith), who flips out when she discovers another woman's earring in the car on their way to the funeral.

Their reluctant host is Junior's brother, Ray Bud (rap star-turned-actor LL Cool J), a hard-working mechanic, and his sweet wife, Lucille (Vivica Fox), who spends her time trying to keep the peace and soothe her disillusioned husband. "When I die," grouses Ray, "don't tell anybody. Bury me in the back yard and tell everybody I just left."

Likewise lurching toward Lula, in a broken-down VW bug, are good-time cousin Royce (Darius McCrary) and Bible-belting Aunt Marguerite (Loretta Devine), fighting all the while about the radio and everything else ("I can't believe I spent 17 hours in labor with you!").

Back home, long-suffering widow Raynelle (Whoopi Goldberg), with her basso profundo growl of a voice, fumes as the funeral discussion in her living room degenerates into a wrestling match between the squabbling brothers. They can't agree about anything, not even the wording on their daddy's grave marker. Raynelle finally settles it by decree: "Mean and surly" is what she wants on the tombstone.

Ray and Junior eventually reconcile over a bottle in a good scene followed by an even better one that cross-cuts among the family mourner-members as they lie in bed that night, listening -- separately -- to Lula A.M.E. preacher Hooker's (Cedric the Entertainer) radio broadcast.

The film's highlight is the action and interaction at price-gouging Depew Funeral Home, where Ray's issues vis-a-vis his father come to a head in an anxiety attack about looking at dead Dad in his coffin (the "Heavenly Express" model).

In the kitchen, preparing the luncheon wake, Lucille puts up with all the gossip and a relative's insistence on showing her photos of "the twins -- LaTanya and LaSagna." Outside the bathroom door, Junior delivers a soulful apology for his infidelity and eternal pledge of love to Charisse, unaware that it's not Charisse listening inside the loo but cousin Royce (wonderfully played by McCrary), whose stated ambition is "to marry a nice Christian gal and have a few children so I can go on welfare." In the meantime, youngest sister Delightful (Masasa) lives up to her misnomer of a name, while Junior's hideous kids are busily toilet-papering the hearse.

It is short of burlesque, anchored to reality by the presence and performances of Goldberg and LL Cool J. Did I call him a "rap star-turned-actor"? A damn good actor, with or without his eight platinum albums and two Grammy awards: "I wish I'd've told Daddy I loved him," he says at the service, "instead of waiting for him to do it first."

One comes to truly care about these characters -- each of whom is funny but not ridiculous, thanks to McHenry's deft direction and the screenplay by David Dean Bottrell and Jessie Jones from their play, "Dearly Departed."

There's not a white face or a racial moment in the picture. Lula is an all-black universe, and its inhabitants -- especially these volatile Slocumbs -- are above and beyond race.

Critics have struggled for decades with the ambiguous term "black comedy" -- meaning "perversely satirical" or "Negro"? It's time to retire the expression.

"Kingdom Come" is not a "black" comedy in either the cynical or racial sense -- it's a comedy, pure and simple and universal, with serious side issues of love, loss and forgiveness. Did we call this family "dysfunctional"?

In the end, it's more functional than we or they knew.

Warm, gentle and sweetly but not treacly romanticized in the end, "Kingdom Come" pokes fun without jeering -- respectful of the real people it celebrates: a perfectly charming, charmingly perfect movie for black, white and any other shade of down-to-earth folks.

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