Wednesday, August 23, 2000

A royal gas

Spike Lee captures a few soulful nights of comic mayhem.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 23, 2000 at 12:00 AM

Comedian Steve Harvey (of WB’s “The Steve Harvey Show”) sways, all caught up in the crooning and wailing of a favorite ’70s slow jam. The audience sways with him. For Harvey, the king of The Original Kings of Comedy, the Charlotte Coliseum’s sound system becomes a king-size stereo converting the 20,000-seat arena into his inner court, a time machine to “back in the day” powered by the music.

Harvey holds forth, a valedictorian of the “old school,” an archbishop of the church of love. He calls on his congregation to remember an age when songs were about skin wet with the sweat of lovemaking, not the blood of bullet wounds. Director Spike Lee (Summer of Sam) focuses on the king’s subjects: black folks dancing and singing along with Harvey. They know every word. Lee also turns his camera on the front rows where scattered white spectators smile politely or look puzzled or bored, people of another realm.

But is Kings funny? I laughed until I cried. D.L. Hughley’s (ABC-TV’s “The Hughleys”) comedy is more transcendent than dependent upon race and class. Harvey and Cedric “The Entertainer” (“The Steve Harvey Show”) call up the hood with their urban remembrances and observations.

Bernie Mac (Life) is the most potentially offensive. His set is a straight-no-chaser send-up of sex and family dysfunction, with a hooked-on-Ebonics primer on the grammatical usages of the word “muthafuckah.” Mac is either refreshingly or revoltingly politically incorrect, depending on your taste. Lee magically admits movie audiences into the Coliseum to catch the closing nights of the show.

If your hands tighten around the wheel of your car the moment you head south of the Eight Mile Road border, you’ll probably enjoy Kings about as much as a homeboy would Jeff Foxworthy’s “You Might be a Redneck if. ...” The Kings rule a separate but still unequal black nation buried under the American Dream’s groove. They maintain an open-door immigration policy with only one exception. King Harvey explains as he breathes in the soul of his favorite love ballad: “If you can’t feel this ... you don’t need to be here.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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