The Cookout

(2004)  1/2 Pg-13
86 min. Lions Gate Films. Director: Lance Rivera. Cast: Quran Pender, Eve Jeffers, Frankie Faison, Farrah Fawcett, Queen Latifah.

Lance Rivera's debut film The Cookout amounts to an unfortunate consequence of Barbershop. If Barbershop brushed up with a broom, The Cookout employs a bulldozer. Here, an African-American tradition is again the heart of an ensemble comedy, but The Cookout is so offensive, crude, and dumb that the occasional legitimate satire and good-natured family-values message are effectively negated.

The Andersen family has a fresh reason to fire up the grill when basketball player Todd (Storm P) becomes a first-round draft pick ("Drafted? Damn this war!" says one of Todd's corpulent cousins). Flanked by a beaming father and fretful mother, Todd finds himself subjected to racist assumptions. The barely perturbable young man deflects the flak and sets to spending the money he has yet to earn, buying gifts for his parents, a Hummer for himself, and—in the tony Garden Ridge Estates—a prime lot which the Andersens quickly earmark as the perfect site for the latest cookout.

Nominally guarding the gated Garden Ridge property is a security guard played—in an extensive, so-called "Special Appearance"—by Queen Latifah (Latifah, who also appeared in Barbershop 2: Back in Business, shares story and producer credits). Latifah's security officer hardly ever lowers the gate, which allows her to run yelling after each family vehicle which (heavens!) rolls into the mostly white "community" to the tune of the Jeffersons theme song "Movin' On Up." White families scream in terror at the mere sight of the Andersens' moving caravan; Farrah Fawcett exclaims, "Honey! Call security! I just saw some negroes!" Her husband turns out to be Danny Glover, whose character has retreated so far into moneyed white culture that even his wife has neglected to notice he's black.

That's as far as the "sophisticated" comedy goes: the rest is jerryrigged out of painful stereotypes: swishy chefs, ghetto thugs, hillbillies, potheads, and a starchy butler among them. Many of the supporting characters uncomfortably conjure old Amos and Andy antics. Eve shows up as a sexy alternative to Todd's shrill, gold-digging girlfriend; Tim Meadows attempts to mine a few laughs as a loser cousin whose claim to fame is failing to pass the bar fifteen times. Two screenwriting duos pit greed against "the three 'F's: fun, food, and family." Though the latter values win out on screen, The Cookout is far from altruistic; I fear it will rack up many happy returns, perhaps enough for a Cookout 2.

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