"Kingdom Come" -- an ensemble effort in which an African-American clan faces the death and impending funeral of a not-so-beloved family member -- clearly has its heart in the right place. And its credentials are impressive: David Dean Cottrell and Jessie Jones adapted the story from their successful play, "Dearly Beloved." Directing duties went to Doug McHenry, who was behind the camera for 1994's "Jason's Lyric." The cast is blue-chip, too, with Whoopi Goldberg, LL Cool J, Vivica A. Fox, Anthony Anderson (of Me, Myself and Irene), Jada Pinkett Smith, Loretta Devine ("The Preacher's Wife") and comedian Cedric the Entertainer in key roles.
Potholes, though, must have marked the road from stage to screen. The final result is a messy, largely disappointing comedy-drama that's hopelessly torn between sincerity and outrageousness. Some characters (like the world-weary widow, Raynelle) are played straight, while others (Bible-pounding matron Devine, nagging wife Charisse) are so far over the top that they border on offensive cultural stereotypes.
The passing of Woodrow "Bud" Slocumb -- a man so grouchy and stubborn that his wife Raynelle (Goldberg) wants the words "mean and surly" placed on his tombstone -- touches off a reunion of the Slocumb family. Raynelle and her obese, constantly eating daughter, Delightful (Masasa), are both comforted by the lisping Reverend Hooker (Cedric), an ambitious clergyman whose folksy radio show ends with the sign-off, "Call God, don't call me."
A motley crew of relatives are soon making preparations for the funeral. Ray Bud (LL Cool J), the most stable of the elder Slocumb's children, has issues to deal with, including regrets over his loveless relationship with the dearly departed; a troubled recovery from alcoholism; and the inability of his wife, Lucille (Fox) to give birth. Little brother Junior Slocumb (Anderson) is a failed inventor with three out-of-control kids and a shrill, overbearing wife, Charisse (Smith), who's just catching wind of her husband's recent infidelity. On the way into town, Junior drives his car off the road and waves a gun around, threatening to kill the entire family. Funny stuff.
Marguerite (Devine) also makes her presence known in a big way, screaming at her son Royce (Darius McCrary of 15 Minutes) about his unproductive, unregenerate lifestyle. Stranded in a broken-down VW bug, the two argue over the relative merits of rap and gospel music, and mom complains about the 17 hours of labor pain she suffered all those years ago. "Life is NOT a good time," she advises.
The movie, likewise, isn't all that. Admirable performances are turned in by Goldberg and several other cast members (singer Toni Braxton makes a competent film debut), and there's a solid soundtrack of gospel and urban R&B tracks written and produced by hitmaker Kirk Franklin. But the film's overall tone is uneven, and its scripted witticisms yield about as many laughs as a typical sitcom. This "Kingdom Come" is hardly heaven on Earth.