- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 5, 2004

“The Cookout’s” NBA rookie Todd Andersen shatters our ugliest stereotypes regarding superstar athletes in waiting.

He’s sweet-natured, comes from a loving home and cares so much about what his mama thinks he doesn’t take a step without asking her where to place his shoes.

Yet the rest of the film makes up for Todd’s wholesomeness by injecting every other character with all the racial cliches it could muster.

At least last year’s “Bringing Down the House” let Steve Martin enliven the boilerplate racial politics.

Here, the combined cast cranks up the comedy dial so far it’s like we’re revisiting the manic moves of a ‘70s era variety show.

Young Todd (newcomer Storm P) just got picked by the New Jersey Nets as the league’s overall number one selection.

Before you can say bling-bling, Todd rushes out to buy a new home and all the jewels he can drape on his gold-digging girlfriend (Meagan Good, miraculously rising above her half-note role).

That doesn’t jibe with Todd’s parents, Em and JoJo (Jenifer Lewis and Frankie Faison), who pounce on the impressionable lad before he does real damage to his young career.

Meanwhile, Todd’s agent (Jonathan Silverman) has scheduled a rep from a major cell phone company to visit Todd to discuss a possible endorsement deal. The visit comes on the same day as the Andersen family cookout, arranged to celebrate Todd’s NBA ascension.

Naturally, the stuffy rep will look on in horror, as do we, while Todd’s family gathers en masse.

“The Cookout,” wisely dumped into theaters Friday without letting critics take a whack at it, wants to be like a hickory-smoked “Barbershop” cousin.

It takes a loving look at the family cookout, a ritualistic affair marked by greasy food, impromptu dancing and rollicking good times.

Too bad we spend most of the film, literally and figuratively, waiting for the charcoal’s fire to be lit.

“The Cookout’s” amateurish sheen envelopes the whole sorry affair. The NBA draft re-creation looks like an outtake from a college film project while one of the story’s main conflicts, the newly rich black man moving into a predominately white neighborhood, can’t even get the fish out of water elements right.

The neighborhood in question already has a black neighbor (Danny Glover, embarrassing as a self-hating black) and Todd is so gentle he hardly conjures thoughts of crazed hip-hop parties.

Queen Latifah, who co-produced this mess and stars as a bigoted security guard, must think it’s progress to empower black performers to behave just like their cliched white predecessors.

Maybe that’s a bizarre step forward, but isn’t the Oscar nominee talented enough to create flesh and blood characters that rise above convention?

“The Cookout” does deliver a few random chuckles and watching the actors huddle around the barbecue, particularly as Labor Day wraps, will make anyone sorry to see summer go.

Also, watch for “Saturday Night Live’s” Tim Meadows show the others how to match performance to material as a conspiracy theorist/wanna-be lawyer who failed the bar 15 times.

Less appealing is seeing Farrah Fawcett as Mr. Glover’s wife. She looks marvelous from the neck down but her face betrays what appears to be the result of one face-lift too many.

“The Cookout” ought to be full of funny old friends who you wish would visit more often. Instead, it’s the film equivalent of that blabbermouth aunt who you wish would hurry up and leave, already.

*

WHAT: “The Cookout”

RATING: PG-13 (Drug references, sexual innuendo and comic violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Lance Rivera. Produced by Shakim Compere and Queen Latifah. Written by Ramsey Gbelawoe, Jeffery Brian Holmes and Laurie Turner

RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes

WEB SITE: www.thecookout movie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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