Rated PG-13, 85 min. Directed by Lance Rivera. Starring Storm P, Jenifer Lewis, Meagan Good, Frankie Faison, Queen Latifah, Danny Glover, Tim Meadows, Farrah Fawcett, Ja Rule, Kevin Phillips, Jonathan Silverman.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Sept. 10, 2004
It takes some time to get to this lowbrow comedy’s titular cookout – first, young Todd Anderson (Storm P) must nab first-round draft pick for the New Jersey Nets, to the delight of his loving parents (Lewis and Faison), zany extended family, and gold-digging girlfriend, Brittany (Good). While Brittany may thrill at Todd’s new spending powers (her enthusiasm signaled with something along the lines of a pterodactyl screech), the rest of the family and his agent (Silverman) are a touch concerned with his extravagance. What better way to bring him back down to earth than a cookout? But a scheduling snafu pits the cookout against a big meeting with potential sponsors, and Todd’s endorsement deal just may be undone by his three-ring circus of a family, with cousins including a couple of shotgun-toting country boys, two 400-pound stoners, and a single mom with four kids but no daddies. They’re caricatures, these "eccentric" types, but at least they don’t completely devolve into offensiveness. Leave that to hip-hop artist Ja Rule, as a thuggish one-time schoolmate of Todd’s who brandishes a gun at regular intervals. One suspects, with his role, the filmmakers mean to tweak stereotypes, but instead only reinforce them. Same goes for Danny Glover’s priggish, opera-loving next-door neighbor, who undergoes a pot-induced transformation into a ghetto cliché, barking orders to his wife: "Woman! We go home when I say so!" (The scenario further depresses when his wife – played with typical bobble-headedness by Fawcett – swoons at this new, misogynistic twist in their relationship.) SNL alum Tim Meadows has a funny bit as a conspiracy theorist (he likens the game of golf to the white man’s "raping" of Mother Earth), and Queen Latifah is a pleasure to watch, even if she must suffer the indignity of playing a dunderheaded rent-a-cop, but all of it – these wacko characters contributing to what the filmmakers no doubt hoped to be "comic mayhem" – distracts from the most interesting, and by the far the most admirable, ingredient of The Cookout – the relationship between Todd and his parents. They are blessedly normal, and even within the high-concept context of the NBA, the Andersons’ trials – an only son learning how to manage money, have his own home, and stay true to the values his parents taught him – are worthy topics for exploration. Everything else here – from the gross caricatures to the so-called comic mayhem – is sour to taste.