Regina Hall has been the best thing in many movies that were either not worthy of her talents (the “Scary Movie” series), overlooked (Malibu’s Most Wanted), or just plain awful (“The Honeymooners,” “King’s Ransom”). She has an extraordinary ability to be funny and real at the same time, always avoiding caricature. In Ice Cube’s latest film, “First Sunday,” she plays his “baby mama.” Her role is to hound him for money, but she manages to make the character touching and sympathetic. Ms. Hall spoke to me about the film, her plans for the future, and her thoughts on faith on January 4 in Washington, DC.
Regina Hall talks about her new movie with Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, and Katt Williams, “First Sunday”
Regina Hall talks about her character, Omunique
I loved the way you made Omunique sympathetic — it would have been so easy to make her shrill and over the top. This was especially important because your scenes with Ice Cube and are in contrast to the rest of the movie, which is very broad comedy, and are what really make us care about what happens to the characters. Can you tell me how you thought about her and how you create that balance?
Omunique is like a lot of single mothers who work really hard and whose partners have not shown up in an equal capacity. It can make it difficult but she loves her son, and that is what matters to her. It’s about him, not about her. There’s another scene that got cut from the movie but will be on the DVD where she sees her son talking to his father on the phone about the video game and he tries to hide it from her. She tells him that he does not ever have to sneak to call his father, and it shows you that she is protective of the father-son relationship even though they are not together. It is a comedy, but you can’t caricaturize. Her name gave it enough! Omunique is not in a lot of scenes so I only had a few moments to get what you need for comedy and still leave truth there. That’s something that every woman of every race can understand.
Ice Cube was once a member of the fiercely provocative gangsta rap group N.W.A. (for N****** With Attitude). He is now a prolific Hollywood producer with franchise films from R-rated (the Friday series) to family-friendly (Are We There Yet?). He is going for the PG-13 market with “First Sunday,” and it is more product than movie, filled with signifiers instead of story. It has the slapstick of a The Three Stooges short without the comic timing, the characters of “Hot Ghetto Mess” without the irony, and the stereotypes of Amos ‘n’ Andy without the wit.
Cube and “30 Rock’s” Tracy Morgan play Durell and LeeJohn, a hapless duo sentenced to community service after a series of petty infractions. Durell’s ex is about to move away, taking his son with her, unless he can give her the money she needs to open a beauty salon. LeeJohn needs to reimburse some bad guys for failing to make a delivery as promised. When Durell and LeeJohn find out that the local church has raised more than $200,000, they decide to steal it, and end up taking the deacon, the preacher, his bootylicious daughter, and the choir and choirmaster (comedian Katt Williams) hostage. They take the audience hostage as well because this section of the film seems to go on forever.
In between the tired jokes about guzzling sacramental wine, “pimped”-up wheelchairs, a masseur who turns out to be male, a developmentally disabled man, and a very tight skirt, there are very strong moments and performances that deepen our disappointment about what this movie could have been. The always-exquisite Olivia Cole appears as one of the hostages, bringing class and dignity to her too-brief moments on screen. The talented Regina Hall makes the most of her brief appearance as Omunique, Durell’s baby mama. Her part could easily have been a caricature, nothing but bling (check out those earrings) and shrill demands for money. But she is always real and appealing, making it clear that she may be a little desperate but that she is protective of the love Durell and his son have for each other. Williams, as ever, seems to be in his own movie, completely independent of whatever the screenplay and director had in mind, and his offbeat energy and subversive humor brighten the otherwise-interminable hostage scenes in the church sanctuary.
There are also brief glimpses of some themes well worth exploring. The characters debate the idea of rebuilding and expanding the church in its current location or moving it to somewhere less “urban” and “congested,” acknowledged code words for abandoning the poorer, more crime-ridden black community. The portrayal of the community’s commitment to fatherhood is welcome, as the hostages, gangsters, and his angry ex all unquestioningly support the bond between Durell and his son. But this is not enough to surmount the offensiveness of material so cynical and pandering it would have infuriated Ice Cube in his N.W.A. days. Attitude is just what this movie is missing.
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