The worst thing that can be said about Kingdom Come — that it is a nice, well-intentioned little movie — is unfortunately also the best thing that can be said about it. There’s nothing horribly wrong with the film, yet almost everything about it just feels wrong. Why, for example, take an intimate source play and decide to shoot it in the wide-screen format? If the idea was to stretch the film out of its TV Movie of the Week aura, it doesn’t work. If anything, it only makes the material look just that much smaller. Why, for that matter, choose this play at all? The press kit for Kingdom Come makes the claim that the play on which it’s based, Dearly Departed, was a “hit,” but I can’t help but feel this is a somewhat elastic use of the word “hit.” Why assemble such a dream cast as this and then squander their collective talent on this tepid material? The “whys” can go on almost endlessly. But since the film exists, someone thought it was a good idea. And there are good things in Kingdom Come. The opening is very nicely done: Mean-as-a-snake family patriarch Woodrow “Bud” Slocumb keels over from a stroke while his wife, Raynelle (Whoopi Goldberg), reads a hellfire and brimstone letter from his hot-hot-gospeling sister, Marguerite (Loretta Devine). It’s an isolated splendid moment ,with the husband an almost already nonexistent character — seen only from behind and out of focus till he slides out of the frame — and underplayed to perfection by Goldberg, who manages to seem more abstractly fascinated than concerned by his collapse. Unfortunately, nothing that follows ever lives up to this moment. As soon as Raynelle explains the character of her late husband to the hapless Reverend Hooker (Cedric the Entertainer) with the overworked phrase, “mean and surly,” the material’s basic thinness and pussyfooting approach comes to the forefront. It’s a one-joke affair designed to offend no one, be vaguely uplifting and solve everyone’s problems in under two hours with the coming together of these diverse types for the funeral. In so doing, it’s never as funny as it might be (the best joke involves the deceased having to be garbed in ballet slippers because nothing else will fit), and way too pat to be affecting as drama. Piling family drama upon family drama — often with pretty appalling expository writing (characters are forever telling each other things they obviously already know for the audience’s benefit) — only goes so far. And wrapping everything up with a cartoonishly exaggerated flatulence joke plot device involving the Reverend, followed by a last-minute eloquent eulogy by Ray Bud (LL Cool J) and a good old gospel singalong for everyone involved doesn’t help matters. The performances are generally excellent, though. Loretta Devine is especially good, calling her shiftless son (Darius McCrary) an unending succession of demonic names — “Satan,” “Lucifer,” “Demon Seed,” etc. — but the material just isn’t there. And neither, I suspect, is the audience for this movie.
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