Judge Clark Douglas has always been puzzled by the fact that some calendars put Sunday at the beginning of each week, and some put it at the end.
Our review of First Sunday, published May 6th, 2008, is also available.
Keep the faith. Steal the rest.
"Who would rob money from a church?"—Tracy Morgan as Leejohn
Facts of the Case
Durell (Ice Cube, xXx: State of the Union) and Leejohn (Tracy Morgan, 30 Rock) are two Baltimore thieves who simply aren't very good at their chosen profession. Time after time they try to rob someone, time after time they get caught, and time after time they commit to straighten out their lives. When it finally seems like both have managed to get their life together, yet another tempting opportunity comes up. A local church has recently raised a lot of money, and Durell and Leejohn have determined to steal it. Both consider the idea of stealing from a church a little bit bothersome, but they are both in rather desperate financial situations.
When they finally attempt to undertake the crime, everything that could possibly go wrong…well, it goes wrong. It turns out that the church committee was having a meeting at the church on a night when the place was supposed to be empty. Before long, Durell and Leejohn find themselves holding the entire church stuff and a few members of the congregation hostage. They then are forced to grapple with a moral dilemma: should they try to go ahead and take the money, or realize the wrongness of what they are doing and repent?
First Sunday is really a rather odd comedy in terms of tone. As you may have guessed from my plot synopsis, the film is something of a sermon on theft, but it's also a typical family drama meshed with a typical slapstick comedy. The first third or so of the film is filled with all kinds of ridiculously goofy, over-the-top scenes. These are balanced out by sincere yet very clichéd moments between Durell and his son. Much like Tyler Perry's "Madea" films, First Sunday has a lot of difficulty when it comes to deciding whether it wants to be a touching drama or a silly comedy. Unfortunately, it's not particularly strong in either department, especially early in the film. The drama is very obvious and hokey, while much of the early comedy tends to lean towards lifeless slapstick gags and one-dimensional character types.
I'd say First Sunday fares just a bit better than Perry's efforts, because it finally manages to find a consistent tone during the final forty minutes or so. The fact that the plot is still contrived and clichéd is certainly a problem; but at least the movie comes to terms with what it is. Performances are solid if unremarkable. Ice Cube looks a little bit bored here, but manages to play his scenes quite effectively. Tracy Morgan is amusing, but lacks the inspired genius he has shown on 30 Rock in the past couple years. The usually R-rated Katt Williams is funny in a much more family-friendly performance, and the wonderful Chi McBride fares very well playing things completely straight as a warm and kind pastor.
The 1080p transfer is just fine, but not particularly ambitious. This is mostly a pretty small, character-driven film, and the technical aspects of this disc tend to reflect that. The only details that particularly stand out here are close-up shots, otherwise there's nothing that really exceptionally benefits from the hi-def transfer. Additionally, the sound mix is fairly simple, with only a handful of the church sequences really giving your stereo system any sort of workout. There's a reasonably generous batch of extras on the disc, kicking off with a commentary from writer/director David E. Talbert. It's an active commentary, with Talbert offering a crash course in how to make a successful formulaic comedy. To get an idea of Talbert's idea of a successful film, consider that he calls director Tim Story (Fantastic Four, Taxi) "a great artist, a remarkable talent." Quite surprisingly, Talbert offers up a long list of movies that he has borrowed liberally from. The disc also offers the option to view the commentary as a subtitle track, which is nice. Unique to the Blu-ray version of the film is a pop-up trivia track offering the usual bits of info about the film. This is a nice little extra which fans of the film will undoubtedly enjoy.
Moving on to the rest of the extras, there is a very generous amount of deleted scenes included here…no less than 34 minutes of material, with optional commentary from the director. A four-minute gag reel is okay, featuring the cast blowing their lines and cracking up. More fun is offered in five minutes of outtakes, featuring Katt Williams doing some great riffs. We get to witness David E. Talbert's camera wrap speech, which lasts about three minutes. Finally, a fifteen-minute featurette is the usual EPK sort of deal, but it's nice to hear a few thoughts from the cast on the movie.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If I recommend the film to anyone, it would be the movie viewers out there who are seeking light-hearted entertainment with a positive message. There are a lot of complaints these days that comedies are too heavy on raunchy elements and gross-out humor for laughs. First Sunday stays well within the bounds of its PG-13 rating, and does indeed offer some redemptive messages.
"First Sunday" is refreshingly positive in the values it encourages, but it's still pretty banal drama and comedy. There's even one of those ridiculous courtroom scenes at the end in which no one seems to have any clue of how the legal system actually works. I swear that there have been far more moments of joyous applause in movie courtrooms than in real-life ones. I didn't actively dislike First Sunday, it's pleasant if you haven't got anything else to do, but offers very little of genuine value, no matter what tone it attempts to take.
Guilty, but considering that this crime was committed with good intentions, a minimal amount of community service is all that is required from everyone involved.
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• Commentary with writer/director David E. Talbert
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