Does Ice Cube ever sleep? Rapper, writer, actor, mogul -- it seems as though not a month goes by without some new Cube-ified "product" hitting the shelves, from music to movies to, I'm sure, Ice Cube lunchboxes. Yet, if the sheer volume overwhelms to the point that his individual accomplishments seem less important than the sum total of his output, one should not forget that his is now a recognizable brand name with undeniable drawing power. His mug on the marquee ensures a strong opening weekend, and even in the most marginal, unmemorable crap, Ice Cube can still pack 'em in.
Now we have the latest Ice Cube flick, 'First Sunday.' This lighthearted religious caper falls in the middle rung of his cinematic canon -- fanciful enough to provide better entertainment than, say, 'All About the Benjamins,' but inoffensive and sanitized to the point of losing the topical wit of 'Barbershop.' 'First Sunday' is the type of movie that your church-going grandmother would like, but I'm not sure that's a compliment.
Meet Durell Jefferson (Ice Cube). Even though he's just been sentenced to 5,000 hours of community service, he's still looking for the perfect scam, so who else does he have to turn to except... God? Realizing that "the Lord helps those who help themselves," he eventually decides to help himself to the neighborhood church's building fund. Accompanied by his dimwitted partner-in-crime LeeJohn Jackson (Tracey Morgan), these two down-on-their-luck con artists are conned themselves when they discover the cash has already been stolen. So what else to do but hold the congregation hostage in an attempt to sniff out whoever nabbed the loot.
'First Sunday' comes off as a cross between some old Bing Crosby/Bob Hope comedy and 'Sister Act' (only without singing nuns). Written and directed by David E. Talbert, it's actually a fresh little concept for a movie, combining a crime caper slapstick feel with light religious satire. It's just unfortunate that Cube and Morgan are no Hope and Crosby. Their byplay is actually the most tiresome aspect of the movie (especially Morgan -- a little of his dumb-dog shtick goes a long way), so 'First Sunday's central storyline soon feels stale and uninteresting. Also wearing thin is the bizarre rap thug/family-friendly persona that Cube has been honing over his last few movies -- Durell's "transformation" from criminal to do-gooder is utterly and hopelessly predictable.
The only reason 'First Sunday' stands out at all is due to its supporting cast of memorable, unique faces (most played by comedians). My favorite is the abrasive pastor (Chi McBride), who manages to steal more than a few scenes by bucking the usual staid, holier-than-thou caricature. His uncommonly beautiful daughter (Malinda Williams) feels like a token character, but at least Michael Beach adds some mischief as the sketchy Deacon, while famed comic Katt Williams is often hilarious as a bitchy, flamboyant choir director.
Unfortunately, 'First Sunday' must succeed by virtue of its main story, and on that level it comes up short. Unlike Ice Cube's closest cinematic rival for the "urban audience," Tyler Perry, Talbert makes no attempt to tackle social issues or, it seems, offer much of a theme. 'First Sunday' is as one-dimensional as it plot synopsis suggests, and only enlivened by personalities that elevate the weak material they are given. 'First Sunday' is not the worst of Ice Cube's comedies (that distinction must go to the abysmal 'XXX: State of the Union'), but it's certainly not heavenly.
'First Sunday' gets a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, framed at 1.85:1. It's a sharp, attractive presentation.
Colors are nice and natural, with a wide palette of hues that are well saturated. Fleshtones are accurate. Blacks hold firm and contrast is punchy enough to register a very deep and detailed picture. There is a slight black crush that lessens the finest details, though it is not a major flaw. Befitting a new release, the source is pristine and very sharp. This is another clean encode from Sony, too, so compression artifacts are not a problem. Great stuff.
Sony provides no less than four Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit) tracks: English, French and Portuguese. There are also Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) options in Spanish and Thai.
It's a fun comedy mix. There's not a ton of action, but discrete effects are pronounced where appropriate. The few uses of songs are quite lively, really filling up the entire soundfield. The mix also has punchy dynamics, with excellent fidelity and bass that suits the material just fine. Dialogue is also well-balanced throughout, so no volume issues here. 'First Sunday' isn't gonna be your new demo disc, but it's excellent at what it does.
'First Sunday' hits Blu-ray and DVD day-and-date, and it comes with a pretty decent spate of extras, although Sony hasn't bumped up all the video extras beyond 480p/i/MPEG-2 resolution. (Optional subtitles are provided in English, French, and Dutch.)
'First Sunday' is another offering from the Ice Cube funny factory, and it's a light, fairly entertaining comedy. It's also utterly predictable, so don't expect any surprises. This Blu-ray is pretty sweet, though, with great video and audio and plenty of extras. I wouldn't recommend a purchase sight unseen, but 'First Sunday' is worth a rental.