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May 12, 2006 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | May 12, 2006 |

At some point during my viewing of King’s Ransom, I glanced down at the long plastic straw protruding from my soft drink cup and wondered for a brief second if ramming it into the cornea of my left eye would 1) Produce a sensation more painful than listening to Anthony Anderson’s shrill, mega-phonic voice, or 2) Make for a situation funnier than the ones I was seeing on the big screen. Though I managed to fight off the urge long enough for the credits to roll, these questions stay with me. The world may never know.

Mr. Anderson, shockingly enough, plays a big, blubbery loudmouth named Malcolm King — a corporate CEO and freelance asshole who heads a multi-million-dollar marketing firm. As the audience will quickly learn (and ultimately, empathize), King is a character so obnoxious and repellant that he elicits nothing but disgust from his coworkers and companions, especially his estranged wife, who wants a lucrative divorce. In a harebrained attempt to stymie her, King conspires with his rock-stupid mistress to fake his own kidnapping. But little does he know his ex-wife, three pissed-off coworkers, and an innocuous white-trash loser have all separately hatched the same plan in order to exact revenge and/or financial gain. Get it? King’s ransom. Funny.

What follows are predictable hijinks of mistaken identity and motive confusion which end up landing King in the basement of hapless loser Corey, played by Jay Mohr. The duo form a charming bond through slapstick violence and offensive humor until finally the situations flare out of control, resolve themselves, and everyone ends up hunky-dory like you knew they would.

Perhaps the biggest problem was casting. Anderson, who’s built a ramshackle profile for himself appearing as the irritable doofus/sidekick in Kangaroo Jack and Barbershop, is clearly out of place playing a lead role. His personality may be appropriate to the portrayal of a big fat egotist, but Anderson’s performance is so loud, so galling, and so grating that the laughs it’s intended to provoke will be replaced by genuine hatred. The rest of the mostly unfamiliar cast just seem to be going through the motions with jokes and situations that are crude, offensive, or worst of all, unfunny.

The only two actors who manage to come close to the humor that subsidiary director Jeff Byrd seems to be playing for are Donald Faison and Charlie Murphy, who comprise a miniscule subplot in the botched kidnapping. Both actors finely utilize the comedic traits that have made them such popular television stars of late, and so naturally Byrd gives them roles with almost no screen time whatsoever.

All in all, King’s Ransom represents a completely botched entry into the “urban” film canon, given that the film team had plenty of funny archetypes to draw from and at least two reliable actors to pull it together. What it happens to be instead is a watered-down farce with characters too loathsome to be watchable and jokes that only stoned 8th graders would find funny. Then again, maybe there was some brilliantly-concealed cultural subtext in the line “I pooted” that I just didn’t get.

Phillip Stephens is a movie critic for Pajiba.

Film | May 12, 2006 |

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