Eric D. Snider

First Sunday

Movie Review

First Sunday

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: D-

Released: January 11, 2008


Directed by:


Tyler Perry's success with church-going black audiences may not have earned him much credit in mainstream Hollywood yet, but it has gotten him something else: imitators. As if Perry's own films weren't bad enough, now we have to contend with ill-begotten rip-offs of them? Heaven help us.

"First Sunday" is like Perry's "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" or "Madea's Family Reunion" in that it awkwardly tries to combine broad, clownish humor with emotional sentiment and religious fervor. The concoction is unpleasant, to say the least. The comedy isn't funny, the emotion is contrived, and the spirituality feels forced.

It's the first theatrical film by David E. Talbert, who, like Perry, is a prolific playwright and a director of straight-to-video comedies. This one concerns a couple of petty Baltimore criminals named Durell (Ice Cube) and LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan), who have serious money problems. LeeJohn owes some bad Jamaicans cash due to a scheme that I didn't quite follow that pertained to a van full of wheelchairs (?), while Durell's ex-girlfriend Omunique (Regina Hall) is going to move -- with his young son -- to Atlanta unless she can come up with $17,000 for the lease on her hair salon. She isn't asking Durell to come up with the money, but he knows it's the only way to keep his son nearby.

After a half-hour of sidetracks and shenanigans (the guys go to a massage parlor, and LeeJohn's masseuse turns out to be a dude, if you can imagine anything so hilarious), LeeJohn and Durell wander into a church one Sunday just in time to learn that the congregants have raised quite a bit of money for building renovations. Why not sneak back in later tonight and steal the cash from the church's safe?

It is LeeJohn's idea; LeeJohn is simple-minded and a little crazy. Durell, slightly more practical, is appalled by the notion of robbing a church. Nonetheless, he realizes it is the ONLY WAY to keep his son from being taken away. THE ONLY WAY, PEOPLE!!! What do you expect him to do?!

Strangely, Durell goes from being reluctant to being fully committed, to the point that he brings not one but two guns for the job. When it turns out the church board is meeting late that night and the thugs are caught in the act of breaking into the safe, Durell takes everybody hostage. The problem now is that the cash that was supposed to be in the safe is already missing: Someone has stolen the money that Durell and LeeJohn were planning to steal.

The bulk of the film is set in the chapel, where Durell keeps everyone while trying to determine who has the money. There has been a lot of strife at the church. The deacon (Michael Beach) wants to use the funds to move the church out of the ghetto, while Pastor Mitchell (Chi McBride) and his daughter Tianna (Malinda Williams) want to stay in the community. The spazzy gay choir director, Rickey (Katt Williams), offers nothing except lame one-liners based on misunderstandings, e.g., when someone says some funds have been put into an escrow account, he says, "Who's Escrow? He don't even go to this church"; when someone calls LeeJohn and Durell "miscreants," he says, "'Miscreants'?! We are African American!"

Rickey is a prime example of Tyler Perry's influence: the character who doesn't fit in the movie. (Perry's Madea always sticks out like a sore thumb, too.) Most of the other characters, while comedic, at least resemble real people. Rickey is simply a cartoon, a sketch-comedy figure -- which is fine, but not when he's the only (or almost the only) character like that. It's hard to take anything about the film seriously when it's being pulled down to his level of buffoonery.

(See also: the old woman in the church-board meeting who is played by a young man in drag. I'm trying to remember the last African American comedy I saw that did not include a man dressed as a woman, but my memory comes up short. And how come the character disappears in the middle of the hostage situation? Was the actor only contracted for one day of filming?)

The story alternates between being dull and being ludicrous, culminating in a courtroom scene that's so inept and implausible as to be surreal. All of the film's attempts at sentiment fail, partly because Ice Cube is no better at conveying emotion than an actual ice cube would be, and partly because Talbert isn't competent enough as a writer or director to pull off the sudden shifts in tone. The film is an embarrassment from start to finish.

What the heck, one more stupid joke from Rickey:

DEACON: The community is affecting us!
RICKEY: I'm not infected, I have papers to prove I'm not infected.

What is this, a minstrel show?

Grade: D-

Rated PG-13, moderate profanity, a little vulgarity

1 hr., 36 min.

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This item has 28 comments

  1. christanmonk says:

    Since I am making this comment on the day that Marion Jones was sentenced to 6 month in prison, then I will be brief. First: I guarantee you that 90% of the movie critics of Tyler Perry,Spike Lee, John Singleton and David Talbert are WHITE. My recommendation for ALL WHITE critics is to first see CLASIFIED X by Mevin Van Peebles, the best documentary on the histoy of black cinema ever made. No critic can view ANY black film without Viewing this masterpiece on culture, racism, and the white film aesthetic will only begin to educate you on the significant differences in taste, content, quality and purpose than this documentary, which will also illustrate why Melvin created the first so-called “blackploitation” film. Second: 95% of black people in America LOVE Tyler Perry because his stuff is based on real experiences from the black community. That speech by Cicely Tyson and Maya Angelou in FAMILY REUNION is a cry for our people to stop killing each other, something no white person can say in their films because they started the killing of our dreams when they enslaved us. I don’t believe any white person can ever truly review a film objectively without actually having a genuine black experience any more than me trying to write a piece about skiing or surfing, neither of which I do. The cultural dynamics are dramatically different in that black screenwriters have a culturally different purpose in composing their screenplays. Could a white writer compose DIARY or REUNION or DADDY’S LITTLE GIRLS? Absolutely not, because the characters in these films are undergoing a uniquely black experience. All around us in the black community, we se decay, poor public education, over working parents or single breadwinners, crime, unemployment - every reason to despair. Comedy is the best devise to provide inspiration and support for our people while simultaneously teaching a lesson in ethics and morality, similar to Jesus’ use of parables. Black cinema is a “virtual” parable for contemporary times for our people I pray that more movies like THIS CHRISTMAS are being produced annually. THREE: I think that it is true genius to use HUMOR in a movie that provides social commentary which is exactly what black people need at this stage of their existence. Although the idea of stealing from a church cuts close to this Christian, I would support the movie because black producers/writers are making an attempt on many levels to HEAL our people. Please watch the commentary on the dvd THE LIVES OF OTHERS, about layers, the 2006 Academy Award winner of Best Foreign Language Film. These films have many layers to them that are unseen by the white eye. In conclusion, I would recommend that EVERY WHITE critic take one or two black people with them to the opening of any Tyler Perry film or any other black film (not AMERICAN GANGSTER which was directed by Ridley Scott or by any other white writer/director) ask for their comments. The critic should take a black female or male of adult age and ask them their opinions FIRST before they start writing about what they don’t know because white America will never know the heart and soul of black people. Amen.

  2. John says:

    So, I suppose that I can't like French cinema, as I am not French? Perhaps I can't appreciate Mexican food, as I am excessively Caucasion? It is possible to make films that speak to African Americans and Caucasion. The way is to make movies that don't suck.

  3. Andrew D says:

    So much for being brief, comment #1. And making sense.

  4. Drak Pope says:

    That's not fair at all. I'm black and I don't find drag queens as funny as I'm apparently required to. I mean, Tyler Perry is okay at times if you're really, really religious, but I've never ever found myself having to rob a church or infiltrate an elderly matriarch's house. Does lacking those experiences make me less of a black man, less of a Christian, or what? I honestly don't understand the racialist rhetoric promoted by people like christanmonk, because it's basically a type of emotional manipulation intended to defuse criticism of movies made by black people. While I don't agree with Snider's review entirely (I would have given Perry's films a C+ -- some of the jokes are spot on but the man really should not make films out of material that would only last for a short skit).

  5. Dreaam says:

    The Movie was Funny, Tyler Perry Get's Madea From Rickey Smiley. He's been doing it way Longer before a Madea Ever Existed.

  6. JackieBrown says:

    "So is this the part were i'm suppost to feel guilty for being white?"

  7. Leah Jane says:

    I saw a giant poster for this when my boyfriend's family and I went to go see Juno. I think it's fair for me to say that these films are insulting to the entire human race's intelligence, no matter what ethnicity you are. All people deserve better cinema than this garbage.

  8. David says:

    Leah, did you see the movie, or are you judging it solely on the poster and/or the fact that Eric gave it a bad review? How do you know it's garbage?

  9. Veronica says:

    Bravo, Christanmonk! You took the words right out of my mouth. Instead of being defensive, listen to what he is saying. He is right that 90% of the movie reviewers are white, which does not give a movie made by a black person a fair chance. If you are a middle aged white person, you may not appreciate the humor. Where a younger white person may be open to the monologue. Let's face it, are cultures are different and it is refreshing to see that our young adults are assimilating. I am an "almost middle aged upper middle class black female" that lives in a predominately white neighborhood and I love Tyler Perry's plays and movies, because I can relate to the humor. Some of white america seems to be indifferent when it comes to these same plays and movies. However, I do see alot of white people going to see Tyler Perry's movies and enjoying it. Those of you who are hiding behind the scenes appear to be insulted by them, when they are not made to insult you but to humor everyone and liberate us. Drake Pope, you are crazy. Madea's character is not intended to be a drag queen and you know it. Loosen up! It's comedy that you obviously cannot relate to, either. I am going to see First Sunday now and I am quite sure I will enjoy it as I usually do enjoy these movies. I just happened to check the reviews and saw the negativity as usual and had to respond. Everyone have a lovely weekend.

  10. thejoeinme says:

    I don't think it's a black vs white issue, but rather, a smart vs stupid issue. I've spoken to plenty of intelligent people who happen to be black and who also happen to be offended by alleged comedies such as First Sunday, because they feel their intelligence is being insulted.

    "All around us in the black community, we se decay, poor public education, over working parents or single breadwinners, crime, unemployment - every reason to despair."

    That's not a uniquely black experience.

    "Comedy is the best devise to provide inspiration and support for our people while simultaneously teaching a lesson in ethics and morality, similar to Jesus’ use of parables."

    Perhaps it's time to try a new method of providing inspiration, if you're still seeing "decay, poor public education..." after 30+ years of comedy as a device of inspiration. And I'm pretty sure Jesus' parables weren't being played for laughs.

  11. Eman says:

    I would like to say as a person of color that this movie was not a good movie at all, I may have gotten about two laughs from the movie. Now I see that the Tyler Perry movies were talked about now thoses movies were funny and the plays . I would not compare This Sunday with a Tyler Perry movie ther is no comparison

  12. JayBay says:

    There is really no difference in Tyler Perry and First Sunday but if both of the writers want to make a movie that makes us laugh and learn to enjoy life then who cares. The two represent for the black community and stand up for things that Hollywood used to be scared to represent the higher power of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So why criticize the works of the two black man trying to make a living but recognize and take a look at these are things that are really are going on in what they call the Black Neighborhoods. There really is no black vs. white but more of an enlighten on what is going on in our world a closer look. Maybe the writers fell as though some people really don't want to open there eyes to what is really going on in our world so they decide to put it on film. The intelligence of the two black man are just relevant to the what our black community stands up for if someone such as these so called critics have a problem SUCK IT UP AND MOVE ON and for Dreaam who cares where Tyler Perry got Madea from wheater it be from Rickey Smiley or the Whitehouse its his character and he is the one that is making the money off of it just as the young music artist use the words and melodies from back in the day to write there own music.

  13. Goldfish says:

    Sorry all. I usually don't write this much. You don't have to read it if you're tired of spiels. Here goes...

    The point of a movie review is to mirror the opinion of the reader so that he/she can judge whether or not he/she will like a movie without actually seeing it.

    I don't know why most movie reviewers I see online are middle-aged white guys, and I also feel that there should be more movie reviewers who aren't middle-aged white guys. But to be honest, I think it's silly to ask a middle-aged white guy to change his opinion because people of other ages, ethnicities, genders etc. disagree with him. If people disagree with the opinion represented in this review, that doesn't mean that Eric needs to change his opinion. It is his opinion.

    While I think that movie critics would represent better if they were a more diverse group, I also think that it is the reader's job to find a critic that represents his/her opinions, not to ask a reviewer to change his/hers.

    Or if you can't find a reviewer that represents your opinions, judge your opinion off of the review. For example, I know that Eric usually has a lower opinion of romance movies than I do. I don't expect Eric to change his opinion, but if Eric liked it, I know I'll love it. If Eric didn't really like it, I know I will probably still like it.

  14. Stephen M (Ethesis) says:

    "Madea's Family Reunion" .. made me think of the Golden Fleece, similar name there. ...

  15. Butterflygoddess says:

    Ok soooo whats all the drama about again?. I think that we as a people no matter what race have totally gotten away from what we cosider laughable. Everyone is titiled to there own opinion, hence freedom of speech. Everytime someone makes a comment that we dont like why do we always pull the race card? True the directors may be african american and the reviewers may be caucasion but since when do opinons have a color,? they are merley what we as individuals think things should be. Throughout history writers of all ethnic backgrounds have written movies about there experiences, lifestyles and even things they see on the street. If at anytime there was a review about a film that a caucasian man wrote by an african american i doubt that the uproar would be the same. Not saying that i agree withe the comments that were made but everyone once in a while makes a bad movie with no plot or one that leaves you going, ok what just happend?.

    I myself llike tyler perry and again its my opinion and im entitled to that, he may be a little over the top with the madea character but she is just there for comedy relief in a scene where things may get a little personal for some.

    I just feel like one race is not the issue, we are as a people.

  16. Dustin says:

    Where is everyone getting these statistics on movie reviewers? 90% of movie reviewers are white? Who the hell collected that data?

  17. Davebawx says:

    How did this turn into such a heated debate? Some people are nuts.

  18. Itzkurtinz says:

    Not that my opinion counts that much, but I just watched the movie and I was disappointed. The plot was so unrealistic it was hard to follow, most of the characters were trying to be funny, and the humor was very lackluster at best. Someone needs to make a black movie without the hood, stupid humor, trashy chicks, and a man playing a woman. Lets actually formulate a well scripted plot and incorporate realistic everyday african-american characters and see where it goes. White people can appreciate good humor, but theirs is of the more whitty side. Some of my best friends are Seriously folks, this movie doesn't deserve a grade higher than a C.

  19. Matt says:

    Hey, I got an idea.........

    If you don't like what Eric has to say, don't get on the website.

  20. Clumpy says:

    Hmm. . . I'm white but many (I might even say most) of my favorite literature is by non-whites. Amy Tan, James Baldwin, Alex Haley, even goofy stuff like Jessica Zafra.

    Much of my favorite music comes from the black community - soul, real rap and vintage blues, not this mass-produced R & B nonsense they're filling the radios with these days.

    Why do I understand these things, but don't enjoy Tyler Perry's films?

    It's true that some of the humor is cultural, and that I don't have the perspective to understand it. Then again, I'm sure that many Mormons feel that the humor in "The Singles Ward" and that spawn of films is hilarious and those outside of the church won't buy it.

    Reading "Sonny's Blues", I felt that I was able to understand and identify with people growing up in poverty-stricken Harlem, to a certain extent. But that's a class issue, not a race issue. Orson Scott Card loves Tyler Perry's films, but Orson Scott Card pretty much loves anything simple and nonpretentious.

    Who's right? Watch whatever you want - you're free to enjoy whatever you like. Individuals have unique preferences, and it's not fair to imply that our race is the determining factor.

  21. Goldfish says:

    Matt was able to state my three-paragraph-long opinion in one sentence. Well done.

  22. lisa says:

    Tha above listed comments is a reminder that race is still a very sensitive sunject for many people. I agree with many of you opinons relating to this topic. I will say this, a persons perception is not necessarliy the reality. In reading cristianmonks comments I would agree from the prespective that a large majority of black people who have had inner city experiences could relate to the films humor, thats just the way it is. Period. I would also comment that many white americans take offense when people of color speak their thoughts on certain topics, including race and their own personal experience with white people. In all i think its unfair for people to classify any one particular race and assume everyone in that race acts a certain way. I am a african american female who happens who have european and native ancestory. I have met ignorant people in all races!!!! I must admit that some times humans tend to think from a carnal nature and we judge prematurly. In my opinon I know alot of white people who have been raised to think they are more important than others. I have also been around alot of black people who actually hate other black folks. This issue is a matter of folks not being in touch with their SPIRIT and they continue to rely on the MIND for answers. May GOD help us all. It is fact that when you accept Christ he has renewed us all with a perfect spirit, we need to release what has already been given to us.What a beautiful GIFT!!!!!!!!!!! THIS IS WHAT REALLY MATTERS!

  23. Vilasca says:

    Kudos Christianmonk. You are right. JackieBrown, what the hell are you talking about? Christianmonk has not said anything about making you feel guilty for being white, or for anything at all. He is simply pointing out the fact that our cultures have different experiences and will therefore relate to different types of cinema. When I see movies like "How to Loose a Guy in 10 Days" or the beloved american classic, "Gone With the Wind", I definitely cannot relate. If these movies, especially "Gone With the Wind" were reviewed predominantly by black critics they would probably rank about a 1/5, if that high. Members of different cultures have different experiences, different types of individuals from which to draw a characters persona, and a generally different outlook on the world around us. We see different things in people and have a different method for taking care of ourselves and our business. Just because you can't relate, dosen't mean that black people are attacking you, we are just acknowledgeing the fact that you WOULD see it differently, possibly carrying with you a pre-conceived notion of what the film will be like when you go to the theater. Every year movies are dominated by films directed and produced by white people. How many black people were in Transformers, 1. And he was a sleezy car salesman. We all can relate to that, so it was a good role, but it is just as important for us, black people, to have movies that speak to the whole of our culture both in a comedic and dramatic way. Think about it, it has been that way for white culture since the beginning of cinematic history. Just because you can't relate, dosen't mean the film is bad. I can't relate to "Gone with the Wind" , and people still hold that film up as a standard to work towards. But I understand that just because I don't get it, dosen't mean that it isn't significant to the culture that made it a cinema icon.

  24. ideyshine says:

    Some of these reviews are a little long-winded...but to add my 2 cents to it, I'm an intelligent black woman with a graduate degree, and I also happen to be a christian. I started reading these reviews because I was somewhat tempted to see this movie....the preview seemed ok, and support a brother right? Maybe not.....from what I'm reading, this sounds like it might be another "Norbit", which bored me to tears, insulted my intelligence, and made me disgusted that at this point in time, Eddie is still making such junk. I agree that a lot of "black" movies lack anything that anyone with half a brain will appreciate. Having said that, Spike Lee did put out some really good ones and don't knock Tyler...even though the school reunion one was a let down, others like 'how did I get married" and "diary of a mad black woman" were great with good story lines and lessons to be farting, jumping around, and fat jokes etc, which seem to be typical of "black" movies. Having said that there are lots of idiotic white movies's not a black/white thing, it's the halfwits/the intelligent...

  25. Some guy says:

    Sounds like a moronic movie that came out a few years ago, Stealing Harvard. Bad movies are bad movies, regardless of race

  26. yetimane says:

    I saw this movie on opening night.... It was sold out, the house was packed, I live in the state of Washington, meaning there where both whites and black in the theater laughing till their bellies ached... We had a great time, everyone in the theater left talking about a different scene in the movie, we all took home something, long story short, be yourself, don't knock it till you try it....

  27. kieb1774 says:

    How do you actually get the title movie critic. Is there some special schooling that you go do. Who defines what is good humor and bad humor. How did Tyler Perry

    plays even get compared with this film. I thought this film was being criticized but more emphasis is on Tyler Perry... christanmonk take it light. I'm pretty sure Tyler Perry is laughing this all the way to the bank. Why are you worried about what one critic says. Everyone doesn't have the same humor. What some like others may not. Can we not make movies about race. We have enough problems in the world already

  28. Tim says:

    "I saw this movie on opening night.... It was sold out, the house was packed, I live in the state of Washington, meaning there where both whites and black in the theater laughing till their bellies ached..."

    Indeed. Washington is where Oregon keps its morons.

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