African-American ensemble films -- at least, those not directed by Spike Lee, John Singleton, or the Hughes -- have often been automatically dismissed, compartmentalized as having little appeal beyond their target audience. But when one comes along that offers more characters than caricatures, like Kingdom Come, it should not be casually overlooked. This particular ensemble is filled with young and unexpectedly rich talent, overseen by veteran Whoopi Goldberg in the passive role of the sage widow, a shepherd stepping aside to admire her flock. Several performers who made their names in other fields -- such as LL Cool J, Cedric the Entertainer, and Toni Braxton -- show surprising subtlety and natural ability. The more seasoned professionals are the ones who sometimes edge toward the outrageous, particularly Jada Pinkett Smith as an unruly mother with an unfaithful husband and too many rugrats. But first-time director Doug McHenry does a good job reigning them in, unwilling to lose his film to any extant pressures toward going slapstick. Even with a conventional story full of the usual conflicts, one can sense the dialogue (by playwrights Jessie Jones and David Dean Bottrell, who wrote the source material) steering clear of the most obvious avenues, crediting the characters rather than undercutting them. In its best moments, Kingdom Come even approaches a version of The Big Chill, with the funeral serving not only as a catalyst for confrontations among a dysfunctional clan, but a clear window into a character.
by Derek Armstrong review