In a film marketplace filled with crass comedies determined not so much to make people laugh than to gross them out, the amiable, family-friendly heart of “Kingdom Come” comes as a breath of comparatively fresh air. Yet something is amiss when gentleness is the most memorable element of the film that desperately wants to be a rollicking gutbuster.
Doug McHenry’s film, adapted from their own play by David Dean Bottrell and Jessie Jones, shows its stage origins as it introduces the branches of the Slocumb family with two-character arguments. The deeply religious Marguerite (Loretta Devine) tries to steer her wild son Royce (Darius McCrary) onto the proper spiritual path during a phone call. Family ne’er-do-well Junior (Anthony Anderson) and his bitter wife Charisse (Jada Pinkett Smith) get into a typically heated discussion while in a cramped car with their three bratty children. As mechanic Ray Bud (LL Cool J) gets ready for work, his calm and collected wife (Lucille) tries to convince him to let Junior, Charisse, and the kids stay at their house.
Bringing the Slocumb family together in the Southern summer heat is the passing of patriarch Bud: father of Junior, Ray Bud, and the alway-silent, always-eating Delightful (Masasa); sister of Marguerite; and husband of Raynelle (Whoopi Goldberg). The only person who appears to do any grieving is Ray Bud, who has unresolved feelings about his father and family. While not exactly happy, Raynelle appears at least somewhat relieved to be free of a man she will remember as being “mean and surly,” and most everyone else takes the occasion as an opportunity to publicly air their dirty laundry–most prominently Charisse, who comes across evidence that Junior has cheated on her.
The staginess of the film also comes through in the acting. Pinkett Smith especially appears to be playing to the cheap seats, flailing her arms about and shrieking; Cool J also has a tendency to lapse into melodramatics. The only person able to pull off the broad style of performance is Devine, and given her background on the stage, that’s not terribly surprising; she’s the only one who can pull off the film’s many long-winded diatribes without trying too hard.
And that’s what does in “Kingdom Come” — the plentiful attempts at farce all come off as labored and annoy more than amuse (particularly irritating is one uncalled-for bit of gratuitous toilet humor). Only when the actors and the filmmakers settle down does the film find a comfortable groove. Unfortunately, not only does this occur fairly late in the game, the turn is less funny than simply endearing, which is hardly enough to make all the schtick that came before worth the endurance test.