Three Comedies from Fox
All About Steve (January 5/10)
A disappointingly disposable romantic comedy, All About Steve follows a mentally unbalanced crossword-puzzle writer (Sandra Bullock's Mary Horowitz) as she stalks the object of her affections (Bradley Cooper's Steve) across several state lines - much to the amusement of his off-kilter coworkers (Thomas Haden Church's Hartman and Ken Jeong's Angus). There's little doubt that All About Steve fares relatively well in its first half, as the film - armed with Bullock's agreeably goofy performance - primarily comes off as a silly yet thoroughly watchable piece of work. It's only as Mary embarks on her increasingly wacky journey that the movie slowly but surely starts to go off the rails, with the number of compelling sequences (ie Mary encounters M.C. Gainey's helpful truck driver) ultimately outnumbered by those of an egregiously off-the-wall and downright needless nature (ie Mary meets up with a pair of almost egregiously oddball travelers). The third act, which has been infused with eye-rolling instances of melodrama, proves to be just about as anticlimactic as one could possibly imagine, as scripter Kim Barker takes the storyline into progressively inexplicable directions that're sure to confound and frustrate even the most laid back of viewers (Mary gets trapped at the bottom of a well? Really?) It's consequently not surprising to note that, by the time the end credits roll, All About Steve has definitively exhausted the goodwill established by its likeable premise and Bullock's mere presence, thus cementing its place as a sporadically amusing yet thoroughly misguided romcom.
Claudine (April 4/10)
Though infused with charismatic performances and a pervasively affable atmosphere, Claudine is never quite able to become anything more than a highly dated product of its time - which effectively cements its place as a sporadically watchable yet entirely uninvolving piece of work. The movie follows the title character (Diahann Carroll), a single mother with six kids, as she meets and begins dating a likable garbage man named Roop (James Earl Jones), with their happiness inevitably threatened by a variety of issues related to Claudine's less-than-ideal living situation. Carroll's strong work as the frequently exasperated protagonist goes a long way towards initially sustaining the viewer's interest, as the actress' open, warm-hearted performance ensures that the script's decidedly uninvolving sensibilities are relatively easy to overlook at the outset. There inevitably reaches a point, however, at which the episodic structure becomes impossible to stomach, with the pervasive lack of momentum compounded by an increasingly prominent emphasis on Claudine's welfare problems - which, unless one possesses a keen interest in the nuts and bolts of life below the poverty line during the 1970s, ultimately transforms the film into a disappointingly uneven family drama.
Kingdom Come (April 7/10)
Based on a play, Kingdom Come follows several squabbling family members as they converge on a funeral home after a less-than-beloved relative passes away. The confined, claustrophobic nature of the premise ensures that the viewer is effectively trapped with these almost uniformly unlikable characters for the duration of the film's sporadically interminable running time, with director Doug McHenry's ongoing difficulties in hard-wiring these people with charismatic attributes ensuring that there's just never a point at which one is able to work up any interest in their respective exploits. And although LL Cool J offers up a surprisingly compelling turn as the deceased's put-upon son, Kingdom Come boasts a number of unreasonably over-the-top performances from otherwise talented actors - with the screechy, downright headache-inducing work from Loretta Divine and Jada Pinkett Smith easily representing the worst that the movie has to offer. Of course, it would be relatively easy to overlook such problems were any of this even remotely funny, but the film has been infused with an aggressively broad comedic sensibility that proves increasingly difficult to stomach and it ultimately goes without saying that all but the most immature of viewers will be left rolling their eyes on an exceedingly frequent basis. The inclusion of a few genuinely honest moments near the conclusion - ie LL Cool J's character has a heartfelt chat with his mother - can't quite alleviate Kingdom Come's atmosphere of pervasive incompetence, with the final result a well-intentioned yet wholly misguided piece of work that effectively wastes its talented cast (which also includes Whoopi Goldberg, Vivica A. Fox, and Richard Gant).