Too many chefs manage to ruin recipe for `Cookout'

Queen Latifah's idea loses its potential in satirical film


September 06, 2004|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,LOS ANGELES TIMES


HOLLYWOOD - The Cookout is half-baked.

It starts out on a promising satirical note as likable Todd Anderson (portrayed by Storm P) becomes the New Jersey Nets' No. 1 NBA draft pick and signs a $30 million contract. He assures his no-nonsense mother Lady Em (Jenifer Lewis) that he's not going to change, but prompted by his gold-digging girlfriend Brittany (Meagan Good), he goes on an epic spending spree that includes a mansion with seven bedrooms and 10 baths in a gated community.

Unfortunately, some sharp jabs at nouveau riche vulgarity and excess swiftly dissolve into a shamble of strained comic contrivances.

Based on a story by Queen Latifah, who does herself no favors casting herself as the gated community's officious security guard, The Cookout had several writers - and would seem yet another case of too many cooks spoiling the broth - in this case barbecue.

Lady Em is appalled by Todd's spendthrift ways but realizes that the new place is the perfect setting for her cherished annual cookout, a celebration of what she calls the "Three F's: Fun, Food and Family."

Lady Em is a good, down-to-earth woman, and when it comes to family she welcomes the down-country cousins, the flashy cousin with a passel of kids but no husband, a pair of enormously obese brothers, the sharp-dressing would-be attorney uncle (Tim Meadows) with some cockamamie racist theories, Lady Em's foolishly competitive sister (Rita Owens, who is Latifah's mother) and many others.

Showing up uninvited is jealous, zany Bling Bling (Ja Rule), a basketball court acquaintance of Todd's back in Newark, and his goofy pal Wheezer (Roberto Vanderpool).

The lively backyard cookout is cause for consternation to next-door neighbors, the pompous Judge Halsted Crowley (Danny Glover) and his wife (Farrah Fawcett), who are appalled at the prospect of people they consider low-class blacks moving into the fancy neighborhood.

Only Jenifer Lewis gets to play a three-dimensional character, and her warmth and authority are all that hold the film together.

First-time director Lance Rivera is in over his head in trying to keep a handle on rambling and diffuse material.

The Cookout is good-natured, but it's a dud.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

The Cookout

Starring Storm P, Eve,Queen Latifah, Ja Rule, Tim Meadows and Jenifer Lewis

Directed by Lance Rivera

Rated PG-13 (drug content, sexual references and language)

Released by Lions Gate

Time 88 minutes

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