Let me see: It's January, and a film is released with a recognizable star and an obvious audience. Should be a winner? Nah! Not for nothing is this called the "dead season" or the "dumping ground" because almost all the films released at this time are potential losers, films deemed by their owners weak for a variety of reasons, but most certainly heading for panning by the critics.
First Sunday, a heist film set in a church, fulfills all the requirements for this notorious time of year: The plot is thin and almost silly: a couple of slackers decide to rob a local church in order to pay debts or salvage a family, mixing guilt with almost innocence; Ice Cube stars against his type as a robber with heart, and he produces the film, an act that guarantees this weak film distribution.
Yet, I liked First Sunday well enough to keep it from my slag heap of grade F. I liked the sub-textual seriousness of kids without dads, dads dealing with unemployment and disrespect, and mundane church matters. In addition, Cube (Durell) has a solid persona, not varying much each film, of an intelligent, serious but secretly warmhearted guy, a working stiff who just hasn't had the right breaks.
His sidekick LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan) provides the feckless, goofy, but loveable klutz, whose heart is bigger than Durell's. Beyond reasonable humor is Katt Williams' Rickey, a choirmaster with loopy observations and mannerisms. The women in the congregation serve as enablers for the errant crooks, and in one case, as major eye candy. Most of the characters in the film are shameless stereotypes.
The responsibility for this sub-par comedy rests with writer director David E. Talbert, whose more that a dozen successful plays with heavy social themes remind of the success Tyler Perry has had with a similar profile. But Talbert lacks Perry's refinement of style and substance that deftly mixes broad comedy with social concerns. Talbert may never reach Perry's success, but he should keep trying because social comedy is a powerful part of our popular culture.