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Kingdom Come 
Directed by Doug McHenry 
Starring LL Cool J, Jada Pinkett, Vivica A. Fox, Loretta Devine, Anthony Anderson, Toni Braxton, Cedric the Entertainer, Darius McCrary, Whoopi Goldberg

The Brothers
Directed by Gary Hardwick
Starring Morris Chestnut, Shemar Moore, D.L. Hughley, Bill Bellamy, Gabrielle Union, Susan Dalian, Tamala Jones, Marla Gibbs, Jenifer Lewis, Clifton Powell, Julie Benz, Tatyana Ali, Nadege Auguste, Redena Bivins, Angela Brooks

Two new African-American ensemble pieces have recently opened in theaters: The Brothers and Kingdom Come. In many ways, the two tread the same water but from rather different spots in the pool. Kingdom Come is a clean and good-hearted look at a family coming together, while The Brothers is a decidedly more raunchy romp but one that still extols the virtues of family and sticking together.

Kingdom Come focuses on the extended Slocum family, who have gathered together in the small town of Lula for the funeral of Woodrow "Bud" Slocum. Bud wasn't the most likable of fellows; his wife Raynelle (Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost) wants to put the words "mean and surly" on his tombstone. His family, though, is a more agreeable bunch.

There are his two sons, Ray Bud (LL Cool J, Any Given Sunday) and Junior (Anthony Anderson, Me, Myself & Irene), along with their respective wives Lucille (Vivica A. Fox, Soul Food) and Charisse (Jada Pinkett Smith,
Bamboozled). Raynelle's very religious sister Marguerite (Loretta Devine, Waiting to Exhale) drives in with her son, the less religious Royce (Darius McCrary, 15 Minutes). Toni Braxton, making her film debut, plays a nebulous relative who returns to Lula to flaunt her wealth and ends up realizing what she's lost. Rounding out the cast is Cedric the Entertainer (Original Kings of Comedy) as a preacher with a speech impediment.

Ray Bud fixes cars for a living, while Junior struggles trying to start a company based on his own invention (it has something to do with "polishing" driveways). Their wives are a study in contrast. Lucille is organized, polite, and refined; Charisse is loud, demonstrative, and selfish. Echoing Charisse's traits is Marguerite, who relishes waking her son up at 7 in the morning with loud renditions of gospel hymns and then spends the rest of the day referring to him as the devil. Marguerite's sister Raynelle is much more muted, content to watch her family bicker and haggle.

Actually, there's not much conflict in Kingdom Come. The family members may enjoy arguing about who's more successful and Charisse suspects her husband might have cheated on her, but it's pretty clear that the Slocums genuinely love each other. The movie is happy to coast on those good feelings.

Kingdom Come is based on a hit play (Dearly Departed), and it shows. The dialogue is written to play to the back of the house ("who cares what you like, Satan?"), and the subtleties of character have been replaced by the broad outlines of caricature. So we have the good-natured but rather pathetic preacher who not only talks with a lisp but is prone to bouts of indigestion, we get the classic brassy mother and her put-upon son, and we have the wife who milks her husband's infidelity for all the attention she can get.

Though the script (by David Dean Bottrell and Jessie Jones, who also wrote the play) is painted with a pretty broad brush, the film's acting is quite good. Particularly strong is Anderson, who creates both a likable and believable hen-pecked husband. Vivica A. Fox also gives an enjoyable performance as the glue of the family, and Loretta Devine's Bible-quoting antics got the biggest laughs in the theater. Only Whoopi Goldberg seems out of place; she is incredibly flat and completely out of place in this brash production.

***

While Kingdom Come never brings up a conflict it can't quickly solve, The Brothers focuses on the age-old Battle of the Sexes. The title characters--four black men approaching the age of 30 who get together for a weekly game of basketball--all have woman problems. Jackson (Morris Chestnut, The Best Man) can't seem to commit, Brian (Bill Bellamy, How to Be a Player) alienates every woman he comes in contact with, Derrick (D.L. Hughley, Original Kings of Comedy) can't get his wife to please him in the manner he desires, and Terry (Shemar Moore, television's "The Young and the Restless") has jumped into an engagement with a woman he's only known for two months.

The narrative arc of The Brothers is unfortunately predictable. Jackson, the film's lead character, falls in love with Denise (Gabrielle Union, Bring It On). That goes well for a while until he finds out something about her past which gives him the "willies" and raises all of his old commitment issues. Enter the supporting cast: his mother Louise (Jenifer Lewis, Mystery Men) and sister Cherie (Tatyana Ali, television's "Fresh Prince of Bel Air"), who work to bring our love birds back together.  The other women of the story include Derrick's wife Sheila (Tamala Jones, Next Friday) and Terry's fiancee BeBe (Susan Dalian, The Kid), all of whom get together to diss their men.

Much of The Brothers revolves around these various sessions where the men and women complain about what's wrong with the other gender. Be forewarned: some of the talk is sexually explicit. The movie doesn't have any nudity (though there are a large number of lingerie and bathing suit shots), but it still received an 'R' rating for "strong sexual content."

Despite the film's frankness, the overall tone of the film is good-natured. The various characters might complain about their romantic lives, but only Bill Bellamy's character seems ready to give up on the dating scene. And any movie that closes with a wedding can't be too cynical.

The Brothers fits into the current pattern of showing African Americans as outrageously successful. High-powered jobs, nice cars, and fine clothes are the order of the day. In that sense, the movie is pleasant to look at. The men are all fine-looking, and some of the basketball scenes recall the infamous volleyball sequence in Top Gun. The women are equally gorgeous in their tight clothes and beautiful hair. If The Brothers doesn't break any new ground, it's also not a terrible way to spend 100 minutes. 

J. Robert Parks 4/14/2001

both films 

 
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