- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2001

When its effective, "Kingdom Come" is alternately strong on rollicking domestic and social slapstick or on pensive, affectionate family sentiment. The troublesome aspects are the transitions. When director Doug McHenry, no master of modulation, must shift from one emphasis to the other, the wrenching sensations can be excruciating. Once in securely mirthful or contemplative gear, the movie seems to hum with gusto and soul power.
Its also in the nature of an amusing fake out and makeover, suggesting that the salutary aspects of the "Amos n Andy" tradition arent as obsolete as shortsighted detractors like to imagine. "Kingdom Come" originated about a decade ago as a play titled "Dearly Departed," an account of a wrangling white family in rural Kentucky on the occasion of a funeral. Before being revamped for a flamboyant and invigorating black cast, ostensibly gathered in a small Mississippi town called Lula, "Dearly Departed" was evidently considered for a Jewish makeover. For all one knows, it could be cleverly adapted to numerous ethnic disguises.
The present one will do just fine, although nitpickers might wonder why a Mississippi location is asserted when no one in the cast is asked to simulate a ghost of a regional accent. Shot in the Los Angeles area, the movie might be more plausibly ascribed to a Los Angeles neighborhood. Nevertheless, when the cast is cooking, it doesnt seem unreasonable to make a few allowances for fabrications and exaggerations that are essentially superfluous.
The so-called "dearly departed" makes an early exit slightly off-screen. Called Woodrow "Bud" Slocumb, he drops dead while being read a letter from his devout sister Marguerite by his long-suffering wife Raynelle. An amusing deadpan role for Whoopi Goldberg, Raynelle has more reason to be relieved than devastated by this sudden demise. There seems to be general agreement that the late Mr. Slocumb was an insufferable domestic tyrant.
The balance of the show is devoted to the immediate aftermath, as members of the wrangling and dysfunctional Slocumb clan gather for the funeral, also attended by assorted friends and members of a church congregation, shepherded by Cedric the Entertainer as a lisping, desperately inadequate pastor, Reverend Hooker. The sardonic widow has one stable son, LL Cool J as Ray Bud, an auto mechanic. One of the disarming pleasures of the movie is to see how enjoyable Miss Goldberg and Cool prove to be as mother-son soul mates, the stoical and calming influences within a nest of potential hysterics, ninnies or petty tyrants.
Raynelle, Ray Bud and Ray Buds angelic but childless spouse Lucille (Vivica A. Fox) must put up with the ruckus caused by postmortem houseguests. Notably Loretta Devine as grieving, loudmouth sister-in-law Marguerite, constantly berating her neer-do-well offspring, Royce (Darius McCrary); and Jada Pinkett Smith as Raynelles troublemaking daughter-in-law Charisse. Vain and volcanic, Charisse is the neglectful mother of three and dissatisfied spouse of Junior (Anthony Anderson), the other Slocumb son, as conspicuously weak and henpecked as Ray Bud is quietly strong and maritally blessed.
The family mix, augmented by such ringers as the reverend, Toni Braxton as a wealthy funeral guest who embodies everything Charisse craves, and Richard Gant as Ray Buds maddening, lecherous boss Clyde, proves a savory stew of temperaments, resentments, insecurities and abiding loyalties. Despite Lucilles tireless efforts to keep the lid on while certain members of the family go out of their way to rile others, Ray Bud gets to blow up with gratifying decisiveness after his slow burn reaches critical mass. He even needs to defy his mother on one point of etiquette, her intention to engrave the words "Mean and Surly" on her late husbands headstone.
Not that they wouldnt be justified. But some grievances dont need to be shared outside the family.

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