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King's Ransom

Director: Jeff Byrd
Cast: Anthony Anderson, Donald Faison, Regina Hall, Jay Mohr, Loretta Devine, Kellita Smith, Nicole Parker, Jackie Burroughs, Leila Arcieri, Brooke D'Orsay, Charlie Murphy

(New Line Cinema; US theatrical: 22 Apr 2005; 2005)

Straight Up

Malcolm King (Anthony Anderson) is a miserable rich man. You know the type. He’s the guy you’re supposed to hate, set up in the first minutes of his movie—in this case, titled King’s Ransom—as the focus of antipathy, revenge, and resentment. In short, the villain who might also become the hero, the character to be educated, tamed, brought into line.


He first appears as he rolls up to his upscale Chicago office building, a cocky, Mercedes-driving, designer-suited entrepreneur so egotistical that he imagines employees actually like him for his personality. Waltzing through the lobby of his Trump-ish building, he deigns to say hello to each individual—garage attendant Andre (Donald Faison), receptionist Kim (Leila Arcieri)—all smiling and nodding until he walks off and they mutter, “Asshole!” or “Jerk!” You know, clever retorts.


Malcolm’s ugliness is underlined by his chronic sexual vulgarities, his mistreatment of his assistant Miss Gladys (Loretta Devine), and his boisterous laughter at underlings’ expense. But he’s matched by most everyone around him (save for Miss Gladys, who mostly harrumphs in support of her employer). His perpetually angry wife Renee (Kellita Smith)—who is sleeping with her stuttering “pool boy” Byron (Roger Cross)—seeks a hefty divorce settlement, ever ready to dis her husband on all counts, her banter as sharp as that of his workers (“Just like sex with you, after two minutes, the conversation is over!”). While Malcolm is doing his best not to pay Renee (through legal and less than legal means), he’s also thinking about selling the company for $20 million (this a company that produces predictably tasteless ads for “Bonegra,” with the tagline, “Straight up!”).


The transition may or may not bode well for the staff, chief among them his competent, if obnoxious Acting Vice President of Marketing, Angela (Nicole Parker). Though she presumes that an upcoming announcement will secure her role, she’s devastated and furious when she learns Malcolm is firing her in order to install his dim-witted, tight-dressed mistress Peaches (Regina Hall) in the VP slot. On learning of her fate, Angela explodes, crawls on the boardroom table, tells her now former boss to “kiss [her] black ass,” and promptly vows revenge. It’s even more tired than it sounds, and Parker doesn’t need to spend her time off Soul Food doing such work.


On the other side of town, impoverished Corey (Jay Mohr) resents his chain-smoking, snoring, and farting grandmother (once great Jackie Burroughs, sadly reduced to ugly comedic sidekicking) and fears his adopted, bandana-ed gang-banger sister Raven (Lisa Marcos), just escaped from prison and threatening him if he doesn’t give her money. When he makes a brief appearance at Malcolm’s building—to pitch some merchandising idea—Corey is instantly and meanly rebuffed, so now he has a grudge against the man as well.


Variously desperate, Renee, Angela, and Corey plan separately to kidnap Malcolm for ransom, while he and Peaches, along with her just paroled brother Herb (Charlie Murphy, who also has better things to do with his non-Chappelle Show time, surely), plot his kidnapping themselves, supposedly in order to outwit Renee’s lawyer, but really just to gum up more works. All these plots converge in a decidedly unfunny cacophony (save for a brief moment when Angela and her two-girl crew disguise themselves by wearing Halloween masks, including Condoleezza Rice and Jesse Jackson, and someone who might be Queen Elizabeth or Dame Edna—hard to tell).


Identities are mistaken, promises betrayed, and stereotypes abound: Corey does business with a Chinese pawn shop owner named oh-so-not-hilariously Miss Ho (Lila Yee) and beats up a Mexican worker at a fast food joint, his former place of employment. Perhaps on paper, this all looked less dreary, potentially inventive, even passably comic. But on screen, it’s mightily depressing.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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