Thanks to the success of films like Diary Of A Mad Black Woman and Why Did I Get Married?, we now live in a post-Tyler Perry world where filmmakers no longer have to choose between lowbrow zaniness and godliness, or favor Comic View raunchiness over Christian righteousness. In First Sunday, the conflict and reconciliation of the secular and the godly provides the overriding arc: It's a morality tale about sinners learning to love saints, and saints learning to forgive sinners. Like Perry, First Sunday writer-director David E. Talbert developed a grassroots, populist sensibility by churning out enormously successful, Jesus-friendly plays that were subsequently taped for the direct-to-DVD market. What his approach lacks in subtlety and nuance, it makes up for in crowd-pleasing brashness, at least from a commercial perspective.
Ice Cube lends his trademark scowl to the thankless role of a big-hearted underachiever on the verge of losing his son. When free-spirited best pal Tracy Morgan gets into trouble with gangsters following a stolen-wheelchair transport scheme gone awry, the desperate twosome set out to rob a church, but end up holding the faithful hostage instead. While Morgan and Cube search for the church's stash, the conflict between the pastor's headstrong daughter and an upwardly mobile deacon eager to move his flock to greener, more suburban pastures rises to a boil.
Red-hot stand-up comic Katt Williams co-stars as the church's preening rooster of a choir director. With Morgan, he does his best to keep things lively, but the film has a hard time sustaining comic momentum, especially once the looming specter of the Lord comes into play, though Talbert smartly exploits the little-boy vulnerability behind Morgan's anarchic zaniness. A corny yet unexpectedly moving scene in which Morgan is moved to tears by Loretta Devine's simple kindness helps make the film's shift into inspirational drama far more palatable than it really has any right to be. But while Talbert has clearly given his leads free rein to improvise his script, he doesn't give them much to work with. First Sunday pits the street against the church, but somehow, affable mediocrity wins the day.