"Crime Doesn’t Pray"
FIRST SUNDAY is about two petty criminals who try to rob the church in their African-American neighborhood but get more than they bargained for when the money already seems to have been stolen. There are some strong positive qualities to FIRST SUNDAY, including the Christian worldview that leads to repentance, forgiveness and faith, but the movie is not as funny as it desperately tries to be and the humor is not always as moral as its premise.
FIRST SUNDAY is a comedy about two ne’er-do-wells, played by Ice Cube and Tracy Morgan of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, who try to rob an African-American church in their neighborhood. The movie has a strong positive view of Christianity, especially toward the end, but Morgan’s character is a stereotypical lowlife in the first half of the movie (which might be considered a racist stereotype if the movie were made by a white person) and some of the bickering church members are a bit quirky.
The movie opens with Durell (Ice Cube) and LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan), two incompetent petty criminals and childhood friends, getting 5,000 hours of forced community service from a judge. Durell learns that his ex-girlfriend plans to move to another state with their beloved son: unless he can get her $17,000 to pay off a debt. At the same time, LeeJohn gets them into trouble with some Jamaican gangsters when they lose a van full of stolen wheelchairs.
Durell and LeeJohn come up with a desperate scheme to get the money: rob their neighborhood Christian church. They fumble their way through the break-in, only to discover that someone has already beaten them to the punch – someone in the church. In order to get their hands on the money, Durell and LeeJohn must spend the night in the presence of the Lord and His followers to find their rival and take off with the money. The result is a volatile combination that just might put Durell and LeeJohn unexpectedly on the road to redemption and faith.
There are some strong positive qualities to first-time screenwriter/director David E. Talbert’s FIRST SUNDAY, but it is not quite as entertaining as Tyler Perry’s first and latest comedies, DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN and WHY DID I GET MARRIED? It also isn’t as entertaining as Queen Latifah’s excellent redemptive comedy, LAST HOLIDAY, one of MOVIEGUIDE®’s Award winners in 2006.
First, the movie is not as funny as it desperately tries to be. Second, the plot and characters are a bit forced and predictable. Also, Tracy Morgan can be very funny, but he lays on the goofy, stupid, mush-mouthed friend bit a little too thickly here. Thus, many viewers may wonder why in the world the smarter, more articulate Durell is hanging around this loser. Basically, however, Durell seems to be a man with a chip on his shoulder.
Another problem is that the moral and spiritual influence of the church members on Durell and LeeJohn comes a little bit late in the story. The pastor, played by Chi McBride, is a solid, positive character, but the movie keeps him as a suspect in the church theft until later to keep some suspense going.
Finally, FIRST SUNDAY contains many obscenities, some light sexual references and a marijuana joke. Thus, overall, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution, but in a lighter sense rather than a stronger one.
An interesting sidelight to the movie deals with one of its publicity taglines, “Crime doesn’t pray.” One of the most positive elements in FIRST SUNDAY is its clear sense throughout most of the story that Durell and LeeJohn are getting into trouble, leading a life of crime and ruining their lives because of their secular lifestyles and attitudes, and even their antipathy and cynicism against Christianity. Like all institutions involving sinful humans, the Church has some thieves and hypocrites in it. Even so, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Bible, which is God’s Word, are opposed to sins like stealing, lust, envy, greed, and deceit. Crime, indeed, doesn’t pray, and neither do unrepentant criminals and sinners.
Eventually, the two protagonists in FIRST SUNDAY repent and become blessed by the God of Second Chances, and His Church, with forgiveness, joy and the beginnings of a better life. Now, there’s a positive, inspiring message that more Hollywood movies should endorse.
(CC, FR, BB, Ho, A, DD, M) Ultimately strong, but uneven, Christian worldview about redemption and leading to it, including two unchurched men repent and join a Christian church, but with some antinomian or lawless qualities that could send mixed moral, biblical messages but church members and pastor are mostly positive figures, though sometimes quirky, and undeserved kindness overcomes sin, leading to repentance and faith, plus homosexual jokes where man gets massage from woman who turns out to be a man, which causes him to run away, and worship director acts effeminate and off the cuff mentions he’s not HIV positive; 33 or 34 obscenities (including many a-- words), one GD, one possible light profanity, and an obscene gesture; some comical violence such as trying to blow up a safe which doesn’t do much, wheelchairs spill out of van and cause crashes, police chase criminals, gangsters threaten protagonists with guns, pastor tied up, and man holds people in church hostage with gun, which goes off at least once; no sex scenes but men jokingly refer to woman’s body, especially her rear end, as they watch her from across the street, and man leers at woman’s rear end, plus the aforementioned homosexual jokes; no nudity, but some female cleavage; no apparent alcohol use; no smoking but a joke about marijuana with car bumper sticker saying, “Honk if you like weed”; and, protagonists try to fence stolen wheelchairs, protagonists try to rob church, embezzlement rebuked, and protagonists hold people hostage in church, but miscellaneous immorality is played for laughs and used to teach overall moral lesson, plus stereotypical depictions of African-American community may upset some people, perhaps rightly so.
FIRST SUNDAY stars Ice Cube and Tracy Morgan as Durell and LeeJohn, two petty criminals who need money so that Durell’s son can stay near his father and they can keep some angry Jamaican gangsters off their backs. Durell and LeeJohn come up with a desperate scheme to rob their neighborhood church. They fumble their way through the break-in, only to discover that someone has beaten them to the punch – someone in the church. To get their hands on the money, Durell and LeeJohn must spend the night in the presence of the Lord and His followers to find their rival and steal back the church money. The result is a volatile combination that just might put Durell and LeeJohn unexpectedly on the road to redemption and faith.
FIRST SUNDAY is a bit uneven. It’s not as funny as it desperately wants to be. Also, the plot and characters are sometimes forced and predictable. Finally, despite its strong Christian worldview, which leads to kindness, repentance, forgiveness, and faith, it contains many obscenities and some off-color moments, including a drug joke. Thus, MOVIEGUIDE® advises stronger, extreme caution rather than light caution.