Dir: Spike Lee. US. 2000. 115 mins.
Prod cos: MTV Films, Latham Entertainment, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks. US dist: Paramount Pictures. Int'l distributin: UIP. Prods: Walter Latham, David Gale, Spike Lee. Exec prod: Van Toffler. Co-prod: Butch Robinson. DoP: Malik Sayeed. Ed: Barry Alexander Brown. Exec music prod: Alex Steyermark. Art dir: Tom Warren. Performers: Steve Harvey, D L Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac.
You only have to look at the audience shots to see why Spike Lee's new performance documentary made such a strong start in the US ($12.3m by the end of its first weekend, from less than 850 screens). The crowd - mostly black, but with a few, sometimes nervous-looking, white faces - goes crazy for the four black stand-up comics who succeed each other in the spotlight. And Lee expertly captures the atmosphere by mixing stage and long-shot footage with off-stage scenes and intimate close-ups of the ecstatic fans.
The strong start should help The Original Kings Of Comedy cross over from black to white audiences in the US and achieve an impressive box office total. Achieving a good result internationally could still be tough, however: as funny as the comedy is, some of it is based on American references; and as powerful showmen as the comics are, three of them are known primarily from US sitcoms that may not have made it into many international markets.
The film was shot over two nights in a stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina at the end of the Kings' US tour. Harvey (from TV hit The Steve Harvey Show) acts as emcee for this comedy equivalent of a James Brown revue, pumping up the crowd with his raucous act and with singalongs to booming R&B classics. Hughley (from TV's black-white sitcom The Hughleys) has the most contemporary, mainstream wit while Cedric The Entertainer (a Steve Harvey Show co-star) has a more gentle, surrealistic style. The bug-eyed Mac (best known from his appearances in movies like Eddie Murphy's Life) rounds the show off with a set of no-holds-barred political incorrectness.