When LL Cool J stars in a movie with a title like Kingdom Come, you expect to see car chases, stuff getting blown up, that sort of thing. Instead, we get a fairly average, seen-it-before, family comedy that has its moments as well as its problems -- just like the clan in the movie.
When the Slocumb family patriarch -- evidently an ornery sonofabitch -- keels over in front of wife Whoopi Goldberg, it sets off a Slocumb pilgrimage back to the tiny town of Lula for a weekend of last respects. But, like most extended families, there is friction, conflict, and the occasional secret.
Director Doug McHenry, working from a screenplay by David Dean Bottrell and Jessie Jones (based on their play Dearly Departed), introduces the Slocumbs by route of broad humor, some of it too uncomfortable for laughs. Son Junior (Anthony Anderson) goes ballistic during the drive to Lula, his wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) and kids hollering in the car, and pulls out a gun. Nephew Royce (Darius McCrary) talks and acts like a hood while toting his Bible-loving mother along, telling her he can't wait to settle down and have kids so he can collect welfare. These settings are funny?
But once the family settles in, it's clear that the filmmakers were more interested in the pain and hardship behind those humorous facades. LL Cool J's Ray is a recovering alcoholic, trying to keep it together for others while hatred for his father boils up; Junior's infidelity and bankruptcy come to the fore; and we learn that Royce's only brother is in prison.
What keeps Kingdom Come from melding these storylines into a superior film is a lack of execution -- the scenes played for comedy are not that funny, and the dramatic sequences seem to lack a greater depth that they deserve.
The acting quality runs the gamut. LL Cool J is capable and understated, Anderson is likeable, even when he's short-changed by the dialogue, and Goldberg is appropriately subdued in the smaller role of mother hen. Pinkett Smith is this film's version of nails on a chalkboard, playing every line, emotion, and movement at full throttle. She is needlessly annoying and the movie always feels better when she's not on screen.
The final act is a heartfelt look at love and thankfulness, but it ultimately smacks of sitcom resolution, right down to a poor pastor (the excellent Cedric The Entertainer) with gas problems cracking up a stern-faced congregation. The movie's happiness does have a certain satisfying feel, but it's never as honest or as entertaining as the dramatic moments. In the long run, however, Kingdom Come is saved by its earnestness. Barely.