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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/16/01

The Original Kings of Comedy
2000 (2001) - Paramount Classics (Paramount)

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Original Kings of Comedy

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/C

Specs and Features

115 mins, R, widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 35:12, in chapter 7), Amaray keep case packaging, bonus scenes, music video for Big Tymers' #1 Stunna, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (13 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Spike Lee's The Original Kings of Comedy, (excessive title and all) is a mixed bag of comic treats. It was shot live in Charlotte, NC, during a recent, mega-successful comedy tour, featuring the performances of a number of black comics. Some of it is so funny, that I was actually struggling to catch my breath. On the other hand, some of it is not so funny. For example, there are long pauses between laughs during D.L. Hughley's set. Outside of his performance here, I normally like Hughley's act, but it didn't work for me this go around. Steve Harvey acts as emcee for the event, and when he's funny, he's very funny. I liked his take on an all black Titanic cast, and it's funny to watch him berate a few of the audience members. But toward the end of his set, he dives into a few lengthy stories that really make it feel like he's just filling time between numbers. I also didn't like the occasional willingness to fall back on comic "sure things" to go for a weak laugh or two. In the right context, jokes about the differences between white and black people can be very funny. And indeed, at times, it's very funny here. But The Original Kings of Comedy relies on it too heavily on too many occasions.

But when it's on, MAN is it on! I got a big kick out of Cedric the Entertainer's 30 minutes on stage. His routine is a little friendlier to the ears (for those who aren't too keen on foul-mouth humor), and his description of an oversized, pimped-out, lunar-bound space shuttle had me in stitches. If you want the little tikes in the room for any of the acts, Cedric's is probably the safest bet. For the really good stuff, though, you'll have to wait till the end. The irrepressible Bernie Mac closes out the show with a no holds barred routine that I'm sure is just as good on film as it was in person. Mac's humor reminds me of the self-deprecating style of Rodney Dangerfield and the cruel (but perceptive and hysterical) observations of the late Robin Harris. Admittedly, it's probably easy to get offended by Mac's brand of humor. There is, however, a point in his act where he takes a quick moment to wink at the audience to let them know that he's as much a part of the joke as his targets are. His performance is a perfect end to the show.

Paramount has given us a good-looking anamorphic picture for the film's DVD release. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the picture is generally stable, but seems limited by its source material. Its greatest asset is the solid black level and shadow detail, that help to create a real sense of depth to the picture. Compression artifacting is non-existent, as is edge enhancement. The biggest distraction is a little oversaturation with color, that tends to make some of the the blues and reds look a little too prominent. All told, though, the picture looks pretty spiffy. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also a nice effort that aids in creating a sense of space. Rear channels are used almost exclusively for audience noise (applause, laughter, hollering, etc.) and are effective in really immersing you into the film. Dialogue drop out is never an issue, and bass was surprisingly strong for a film that has virtually zero added effects. My only quibble with the audio was the change in tone during the constant cutting from the stage to get the audience reaction. Without fail, it sounded a tad too tinny and canned for my liking. Outside of this one complaint, however, there isn't a whole lot to worry about.

The best of the extras is some 30 minutes of additional scenes. A few of them feature the four comedians together, talking about their craft. And some are definitely worth a look, including an improv from Bernie Mac as he waits for a stagehand to replace a bum microphone. Along with these, you also get the winning and inspirational video #1 Stunna by the Big Tymers. Actually... the video is as forgettable as the song, so skip it. It just feels like an obligatory plug for the film's soundtrack. The features are topped off with an anamorphic trailer for the film.

The Original Kings of Comedy is the least "Spike" of all the Spike Lee films I've seen. That is to say, he probably had less creative input on this film than he normally does. So all those who fear the controversy of a Spike Lee Joint - rest easy. You're in good hands with the Kings, and there's sure to be at least a few good laughs for fans of stand-up comedy. If you missed them in person AND at theatres, the DVD is your best chance to see them in action.

Dan Kelly

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