Seemingly assembled from ideas on the cutting-room floor of a cancelled sitcom, the lazy, formula-bound ensemble comedy The Cookout at least has this to recommend it: It's nobody's vanity project. The story of a college-basketball star (Storm P) who comes into money and moves to an upscale suburb when he's drafted by the New Jersey Nets, it gives virtually every cast member a shot at humiliation. Queen Latifah produced The Cookout and co-conceived its story. Presumably she had her choice of roles for her "special appearance" before opting to play a bumbling-security-guard cameo that even Artie Lange might consider beneath his dignity. As "Bling," an oft-humiliated hood-rat who attempts to make a quick buck on eBay by forcing P to autograph some sneakers, Ja Rule gives 50 Cent enough fodder for at least three insulting songs. Poor Danny Glover not only plays a nasal-voiced, Bush-worshipping suburbanite, but he also has the requisite uptight-authority-figure-drops-some-lingo-and-gets-high-with-the-kids scene. Not to be outdone, Sopranos veteran Vincent Pastore has a cameo. He plays a shit salesman.
Untertainment label head Lance Rivera makes his debut as a director here, and how and why he chose this project may remain a mystery. Maybe he'd always wanted to work with Jonathan Silverman, who shows up as P's manager. Or maybe he always wanted to stage a scene in which overalls-clad country folk drag a dead deer through a mansion. The world may never know, but he makes it clear that he has no flair for film's visual elements or the craft of acting. No one here seems to know the meaning of over-the-top apart from Tim Meadows, whose dry, seemingly embarrassed delivery provides the moments that come closest to highlights.
The Cookout distinguishes itself in only one scene, providing what has to be the most clueless white character ever to appear on film in the form of an executive considering P for a major endorsement deal. Left alone in a kitchen with P's mom, she says, "I hate to ask, but what exactly is a cookout?" Cue sappy music, sentimental talk about family values, and anyone looking for a funny culture-clash comedy going home to watch How High again.