First Sunday costars Ice Cube and Tracy Morgan teamed up previously… sort of. In 2005’s Cube-fronted Are We There Yet?, erstwhile Saturday Night Live player Morgan voiced a Satchel Paige bobblehead doll that was of special importance to Cube’s character, a sports memorabilia dealer. Writer-director David Talbert’s First Sunday, though, is a much better pairing of their yin-and-yang energy, casting the duo as reluctant thieves who find their hand called after trying to stick up a church.
It’s a steamy summer day in inner-city Baltimore when Durell Washington (Cube) learns that his baby mama (Regina Hall) plans to take his son to Atlanta to live unless Durrell can come up with $17,000 to help her keep her hair salon afloat. A dedicated if chronically underemployed father, Durrell has spent years trying to give his boy better chances in life than he had — trying to turn his gift for tinkering into a full-time job, and all the while resisting the harebrained criminal schemes of his lifelong pal, LeeJohn Jackson (Morgan).
In a moment of weakness, though, he agrees to help LeeJohn deliver a truckload of stolen wheelchairs for a local thug. The job ends in chaos, and arrest, and Durrell and LeeJohn are sentenced to 5,000 hours of community service. While the aforementioned thug wants $12,000 for his undelivered wheelchairs, Durrell is more concerned with the pressing demand of money that will keep his son in town, and thus close to him. Rationalizing that the Lord helps those who help themselves, Durrell eventually decides to help himself to the neighborhood church’s building fund.
LeeJohn joins him, but the two down-on-their-luck men are dismayed to discover the cash has already been stolen, so they hold the congregation hostage in a Hail Mary attempt to learn who amongst the supposedly righteous has already taken their targeted loot. Katt Williams, Chi McBride, Michael Beach, Rickey Smiley, Keith David, Loretta Divine, Malinda Williams and two-time Flavor of Love reject and certified hot mess Tiffany “New York” Pollard also appear.
Morgan and Cube are of course basically playing the same, most popular versions of themselves that they’ve traded on for years of screen work, but what works here is that First Sunday is (fairly) realistically pitched; the amount of money Durrell needs may be in the savings accounts of many members of the middle-class, or at least somewhat within reach, but it’s just not a reality for Durrell. This isn’t the reinvention of the wheel, of course, but Talbert takes great care with his characters to present them as real people with real needs and motivations, not merely shrieking joke peddlers whose rationale shifts with each new scene. The injection of the additional mystery of the missing money, meanwhile, gives the proceedings a slight Clue-type bent, and the movie’s gifted ensemble is more than game in teasing this set-up along.
Housed in a regular Amray case with a cardboard slipcover, First Sunday is presented in anamorphic widescreen, and comes with a bevy of supplemental extras, kicked off by a feature-length audio commentary track with writer-director Talbert, who comes across as supremely humble. A 16-minute making-of featurette includes cast and crew interviews — many from the movie’s Long Beach location shoot set — and does a good job in such a short period of time of hitting all the bases with respect to the project’s history. Cinematographer Alan Casso, meanwhile, talks about lighting the movie as more of a drama than a comedy, and “letting shadows fall where they may.”
Running four-plus minutes, a gag reel showcases plenty of Williams’ improvisations, and finds a crew member amusingly exhorting Cube by quoting one of his rap rhymes (“You can do it, put your back into it!”). There are also a couple outtakes and deleted scenes with optional commentary; again, most of these showcase Williams’ snippy choir teacher, though the aforementioned Pollard, guesting as a bickering client of Durrell’s hairdresser ex-girlfriend, also makes an appearance here. Most unique and moving, though, is a three-minute wrap speech by Talbert after completion of principal photography; the playwright and son of a pastor gets choked up talking about his affection for his cast (name-checking them along with Poitier, Cosby and Pryor), and this nakedly emotional glimpse behind the curtain of production is a cool addition.
Also, though it’s touted in accompanying print materials as being only part of the movie’s Blu-ray release, there’s also an optional “Almighty Version” fact track, which includes pop-up, subtitled, random trivia about the cast and film. Some of this is very broad and pointless, but other tidbits point out location filming (Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, on Pico Boulevard, serves as the restaurant in which Durrell and LeeJohn hatch their scheme) and other anecdotes that are cool in particular for Los Angeles-based fans of Cube and Morgan. To view the movie’s trailer, click here. B- (Movie) B+ (Disc)