An innocuous abduction of viewers' time, if nothing else, "King's Ransom" is an appealingly cast but terminally bland farce starring Anthony Anderson as an obnoxious businessman who becomes the target of multiple kidnapping attempts, with exceedingly thin comic results. The latest and possibly the least in a slew of laffers geared mainly toward black auds, pic could bag decent opening numbers but looks unlikely to follow through on the B.O. promise of its title.

An innocuous abduction of viewers’ time, if nothing else, “King’s Ransom” is an appealingly cast but terminally bland farce starring Anthony Anderson as an obnoxious businessman who becomes the target of multiple kidnapping attempts, with exceedingly thin comic results. The latest and possibly the least in a slew of laffers geared mainly toward black auds, pic could bag decent opening numbers but looks unlikely to follow through on the B.O. promise of its title.

Anderson has been busy of late, with turns on FX’s “The Shield” and in the upcoming “Hustle & Flow” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” boding well for his serious career prospects in ways that Malcolm King, his first starring role, does not.

Opening introduces King driving his Mercedes to work and being noisily condescending to everyone and everything in sight. Boasting a plus-size ego to match his hefty gut, King is the CEO of marketing firm King Enterprises, and precisely the sort of power-hungry overlord whom everyone privately refers to as “jackass” when they’re not sucking up to him in person.

Everyone, it seems, has reason to despise him: his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Renee (Kellita Smith), who taunts him ruthlessly about their impending 50/50 divorce settlement; his disgruntled acting VP, Angela (Nicole Parker), who’s passed over for a promotion in favor of King’s bimbo mistress, Peaches (Regina Hall); and even Corey (Jay Mohr), a poor schmo who hits King up for work and is arrogantly rebuffed.

A TV newscast about a recent kidnapping — viewed simultaneously by King, Renee, Angela and Corey — sets the convoluted plot in motion. King, trying to weasel his way out of paying Renee, conspires with Peaches and her ex-con brother Herb (Charlie Murphy) to have himself abducted.

The others also hatch schemes to abduct King, setting off a series of coincidences, mix-ups and bungled attempts that set unprecedented lows in the annals of criminal stupidity. When the dust settles, King is holed up with Corey in the latter’s rundown house, while Herb has somehow mistakenly kidnapped a valet (Donald Faison).

While all this requires the usual suspension of disbelief, the scenarios are halfway convincing and at times even passably clever; they are never, however, especially funny. Bereft of any comic inspirations beyond letting Anderson mouth off in his usual fashion (“White folks is crazy!” is repeated more than once), Wayne Conley’s dull-edged script falls back on wacky stereotypes — a mystifying number of them directed at Asians — and crude sight gags, mostly at the expense of Corey’s drooling grandmother (Jackie Burroughs).

While Anderson’s shtick is neither as grating nor as inspired as it could be, it’s Smith (“The Bernie Mac Show”) who stands out; as Renee, the gorgeous thesp exudes a playful charisma that deftly manipulates viewer sympathies in her favor despite the castrating harridan she’s supposed to be playing.

As Miss Gladys, King’s long-suffering assistant, Loretta Devine provides solid support. Mohr, however, is far too keen and sharp-witted an actor to pull off the hapless white-guy foil opposite King’s boisterous self-indulgence.

Jeff Byrd’s direction is timid but coherent. Tech credits are adequate.

King's Ransom

Production

A New Line Cinema release of a Catch 23's Alter Ego production. Produced by Darryl Taja. Executive producers, J. David Brewington Jr., Mike Drake, Jeremy Barber, Toby Emmerich, Matt Moore. Directed by Jeff Byrd. Screenplay, Wayne Conley.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor) Robert McLachlan; editor, Jeff Cooper; production designer, Kalina Ivanov; art director, Jean Kazemirchuk; set decorator, Paul Hotte; costume designer, Rita McGhee; sound (SDDS/Dolby Digital/DTS), Patrick Rousseau; supervising sound editor, Jonathan Miller; associate producer, Luke Ryan; assistant director, Myron Hoffert; stunt coordinator, Roy T. Anderson; casting, Tracy Byrd. Reviewed at AMC Century 14, Los Angeles, April 22, 2005. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Malcolm King - Anthony Anderson Corey - Jay Mohr Renee King - Kellita Smith Angela Drake - Nicole Parker Peaches Clarke - Regina Hall Miss Gladys - Loretta Devine Andre - Donald Faison Herb Clarke - Charlie Murphy Brooke Mayo - Brooke D'Orsay Kim Baker - Leila Arcieri Grandma - Jackie Burroughs
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