Directed by David E. Talbert
Screen Gems, opens January 11
LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan) is the screw-up/schemey one; Durell (Ice Cube), the should-know-better buddy. Their latest very awful idea: breaking into a neighborhood church to rob the fundraising pot so that Durell can keep his kid (it's complicated/convoluted). As it happens, the board is meeting that night, the choir's come in for practice, the money turns up missing, and a standoff-cum-whodunit is now underway. Prolific playwright and author David E. Talbert's first feature starts off as straight ghetto capering, then evolves into an inner-city morality play as a night up-close with church folk offers a lesson in Christian virtue and responsibility. At first, the movie is over-anxioustrying too hard to squeeze out the laughs, pump up the soundtrack, ingratiate itself with the audienceand the straining is abrasive. But once Talbert gets distracted by keeping the plot clunking along, the comedy eases into relaxed sideline banter. The trailers are selling Katt Williams's supporting bit as a fey choir director hard, but Morgan butchers me every time with that overemphatic- delivery thing that makes incidental lines multiplex-leveling funny. ("Let's take flight!") His couple of earnest dramatic scenes are, I should add, more honestly felt than anything in The Great Debaters.