CUBA GOODING JR
LIFE OF A KING
“I ain’t got nowhere to go,” Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character says in the beginning of the film. The same may be true for Gooding, who has finally put forth an effort into resurrecting his career since winning the Oscar way back in 2007 for Jerry Maguire. Gooding also appeared in Lee Daniels’ The Butler in 2013, one of his better recent performances. Now Gooding returns to independent film with an inspirational true story that puts him in the Michelle Pfeiffer / Dangerous Minds territory. The last time Gooding tried to warm our hearts with inspiration was with 2003’s Radio, which I felt didn’t work at all. Life of a King is a straightforward story with no gimmicks.
Life of a King is based on the true story of ex-con Eugene Brown, who was once a small town drug kingpin now wanting to make amends with his children. Forgiveness isn’t easily bestowed upon Brown, and with his eyes finally opened he sees other teenage men and women heading towards the same fate. He lands a job at the local high school as a janitor, but when asked to watch detention for a few minutes he gains an opportunity to inspire a classroom with the skills of chess playing he learned in prison. He gets the attention of a few kids and begins working with them, challenging them to do something other than be swallowed by a town limping along from drug use.
A film can be inspirational in its message and yet uneventful in the delivery. The moment Gooding’s character sits behind that desk, visions of Michelle Pfeiffer as Louanne Johnson from the 1995 hit Dangerous Minds came flashing back. Life of a King won’t be as popular as that film because it doesn’t really have a hook. It’s a nice vehicle for Gooding to continue his come back, but it doesn’t have a spark or an element that will gain national attention. Gooding delivers a decent performance; it’s by the books as far as characters struggling for redemption.
In the first act we can already predict the conclusion; these stories, unfortunately, only go one way. What Eugene Brown did for his community should be celebrated and commended and this is a nice little film to do that. It certainly might make its way into schools as an inspirational film to watch about perseverance. Co-star’s Lisa Gay Hamilton and Dennis Haysbert are fine additions, but Thurston Hill gives the most impressive performance in the entire story as the boy who finally listens. On his sophomore film, director Jake Goldberger just doesn’t seem to have the skill to make this film stand out from the endless other similar titles.
Final Thought – Inspirational story lacks inspiration in the telling.
By: Dustin Chase