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King's Ransom


King's Ransom

Director: Jeff Byrd
Runtime: 95 minutes
Cast: Anthony Anderson, Jay Mohr, Donald Faison

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It's never a promising sign when even the font used in a movie's opening credits comes across as cheap and tacky. Yet King's Ransom opens with exactly the kind of lettering designers like to name "Klassy" or "Fancee" precisely because there's nothing about them that's remotely classy or fancy.

A dumbed-down variation on O. Henry's "The Ransom Of Red Chief" as filtered through Ruthless People, the film serves as the starring debut of Anthony Anderson, long a scene-stealer in films not worth stealing. In a performance that confirms the actor's well-defined persona as a brash, obnoxious loudmouth, Anderson plays a Chicago businessman who lacks Donald Trump's wealth, but certainly shares his arrogance and flair for self-promotion. On the verge of a divorce and a potentially lucrative business move, Anderson engineers his own kidnapping as an extremely risky, questionable means of holding onto his fortune. Unfortunately, Anderson has made so many enemies that seemingly half of Chicago simultaneously sets out to kidnap him, including dopey sad-sack Jay Mohr and passed-over executive Nicole Ari Parker.

In order for a labored farce like this to succeed, it needs to proceed with a light comic grace, deftly juggling subplots and staging coincidences with such disarming effortlessness that the audience doesn't have time to notice the plot's machinations. But King's Ransom lumbers forth clumsily, choreographing its slapstick pratfalls with all the class and taste of a Courtney Love relapse. It'd be easy to harp its dependence on broad stereotypes and leering sexism, but the film is an equal-opportunity offender. Black, white, straight, gay, male, female: They're all greedy buffoons until the film's arbitrary emotional arc forces them to be slightly less so.

King's Ransom devotes its first two acts to establishing the comic monstrousness of all its characters, and its third act to revealing that maybe they aren't so bad after all, just frustrated and misunderstood. Like everything else in the film, Anderson's evolution from asshole to slightly less of an asshole feels half-hearted and unearned.