The Cookout (2004) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for drug content, sexual references and language
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Quran Pender (Storm P), Jenifer Lewis, Meagan Good, Frankie Faison, Ja Rule, Queen Latifah, Jonathan Silverman, Rita Owens, Tim Meadows, Danny Glover, Eve, Denee Busby, Ruperto Vanderpool, Farrah Fawcett, Jamal Mixon, Jerod Mixon, Reg E. Cathey, Gerry Bamman, Carl Wright, Vincent Pastore
Director: Lance Rivera
Screenplay: Laurie B. Turner, Ramsey Gbelawoe, Jeffrey Brian Holmes
Review published January 30, 2005
With a premise that would probably have worked better on a TV sitcom than as a major motion picture, The Cookout is a well-intentioned attempt to make a heartfelt family comedy showcasing the rich variety of African-American archetypes. Sadly, these archetypes end up depicted more as stereotypes, as there isn't a single character that remotely approaches multi-faceted, each written to offer their one or two moments of humor and nothing else. Take the character of Grandpa, for instance. The man carries and swings around a baseball bat, and won't give it up, no matter how many people try to take it from him. In every scene, someone tries to take it, and he adamantly refuses. Why is this funny? Beats me. Why is he even in the movie? You got me there, too. But then, he is only one of many characters I can't make heads or tails of, either for their comedic merits or importance to the overall story, in this extremely unfocused and amateurish effort that barely gets by on general affability.
The plot, if you can claim this has one, is thinner than the paper it was written on. Basketball player Todd Anderson (Pender)) becomes the #1 draft choice, signing to a team and earning a $30 million contract. To celebrate, the family decides to throw their customary family cookout. Meanwhile, Todd has been spent a great deal of money on a new house, clothes, and bling bling for his entire family, and his gold digging girlfriend (Meagan Good, Deliver Us from Eva), so his agent (Silverman) promises to try to land him an endorsement deal to help cover the finances. Wouldn't you know it, a representative from a large cell phone provider is on her way on the very same day that Todd's large, loud and embarrassingly eccentric family is having their cookout.
The plot above might have worked if first-time director Lance Rivera could have spent more time trying to solidify the plot, and less time letting this cast of actors run rampant on the story. Everything is played in over-the-top fashion, as if the funny quotient were directly correlated with how loud or silly one says each line. The only thing even resembling a plot, the representative coming to potentially sign Todd to the endorsement deal, is completely ignored throughout 90% of the film, leaving the film without a discernable build-up or climax. With three people coming up with the idea for the story (including co-star Queen Latifah (Barbershop 2), and three other screenwriters actually penning the script, you'd think multiple plot developments and well-rounded characters would be guaranteed. However, not a single one of them, the director or any of the writers, has any prior experience, leaving the character actors with little but to ham up each scene as much as possible to try to give us some indication that things are going on, and that what is going on is supposed to be funny.
Long before the end of the film, you come to the realization that, unlike the similar ensemble-driven comedy, Barbershop, this movie has no real inspiration involved in its conception, and the creators didn't know where to go with it. Despite the title, the film isn't even about the cookout, not really appearing until later in the film, and when it does, not much is done with it. The only idea kicked around was to try to stuff as many wildly stereotypical characters into the movie as possible in the hopes that their interaction would generate some easy laughs. To say this idea never bore fruit would be an understatement. Without enough gas to light the grill, this is an ill-prepared and undercooked concept film that will only leave you hungrier for entertainment than you were going in.
©2005 Vince Leo