About five minutes into The Cookout, a pair of reporters quizzes first-round NBA pick Todd Anderson (Quran Pender) on how it was like to come up from the ghetto. Anderson tells the reporters that he's lived in the same suburban house all of his life, and that his family has raised him well -- that his life hasn't been all hard knocks and thug life. At that moment I discovered two things about The Cookout. Number one: It was going to make some important social statements in a low key way. Number two: It wasn't going to be a funny movie.
The Cookout is a comedy-drama about a ton of interesting social dynamics: About the potential backlash of instant fame and fortune (and the resulting intra-urban pressure not to succeed), about the endless small stereotypes that white people make about black people (and the endless small stereotypes that black people make about white people), and about the need for people, black or white, to be true to themselves.
But it's not funny. At all.
Blame the writers. Blame the producers. Blame the overdrawn characters, but I haven't seen a comedy with so much intelligence and so little humor since, well, the last four Woody Allen movies.
The idea of a family cookout and getting in touch with yourself over the span of six hours with more cholesterol than Super Size Me has definitely been here before, and will be here again, but The Cookout can't grill up a laugh or two in it's hour and a half running time. Instead we get to watch a movie that makes a bunch of really quality social statements in an overdrawn package.
Despite The Cookout's obvious intention to get the world to be color blind, it paints all of its stereotypes in black and white. The black stereotypes are: There's the paranoid black man (Tim Meadows), the cooky security guard who really wants to be a real cop (Latifah), the gold digger girlfriend (Meagan Good), the ghetto punk (Ja Rule), the stoner twins who eat two many muchies (Kevin Phillips plays both of them), and the black man who has become so whipped by Farrah Fawcett that he's become white inside (Danny Glover). On the white side there's the semi-slimy agent (Jonathan Silverman) and the uptight advertising executive who really just wants to break free.
Personally, I'm going to take a cue from the Ladies Man and blame it on the white man. The dry humor, uninspired cardboard cutouts of characters and overused jokes that appear in every other movie reek of being the work of script doctors, and the three screenwriters with names like Laurie B. Turner, Ramsey Gbelawoe, and Jeffery B. Holmes (contrasted with the story credits, Queen Latifah, Shakim Compere, and Darryl "Latee" French) make me think that what started out as a perfectly good script got sent past a few Valley focus groups and turned into a lowfat feast of stereotypes.
The Cookout is overdrawn and unfunny, but it has a heart of gold and a solid message. If studios stopped watering down the films substance like the whiskey of a recovering alcoholic then it might have actually ended up being a film I could safely recommend. As it stands, The Cookout is the dehydrated food at the end of the summer season: It might fill you up, but you're not gonna like the way it tastes.
Cookin' out and about.