MOVIE REVIEW: 'Kings' falls flat on director Jones' artistic liberties

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Kings of the Evening (PG)

1 out of 4 stars

After the opening credits for “Kings of the Evening” conclude, producer/director/co-writer Andrew P. Jones inserts these four words of on-screen text: “Inspired by actual events.” While vague, mostly unaccountable and not nearly as frequently abused or purposefully misleading as the similar “based on a true story,” Jones’ declaration implies what we’re about to see actually took place. It didn’t — at least not where and when it does in Jones’ movie.

The source of the main plot in Jones’ film is “borrowed” from “The Swenkas,” a 2004 documentary filmed in South Africa about Zulu men and a feel-good competition created after the end of Apartheid.

Every Saturday night the Zulus would put on their finest finery and proceed to preen and strut in front of judges for menial prize money. In addition to appearance and style, the winner was also determined on the basis of daily behavior, hygiene and adherence to sobriety. It was all done to boost morale and, in its own bizarre, unorthodox way, it seemed to have an overall positive effect.

Substituting the U.S. for South Africa, Jones sets his story in an unspecified Georgia town where everyone — blacks and whites — are trying to get back in gear and on their feet near the end of the Great Depression.

For Homer Hobbs (Tyson Beckford), the challenge is twice as difficult because he just got out of jail after serving two years on a chain gang for robbery. Far from the typically weathered, hard-bitten ex-con, the young Homer is affable, amiable, eager to please and an aspiring musician.

As we find out early on, Homer was caught stealing in order to put food on the family table and by all accounts he is just a notch below perfect. If you didn’t already know it, Beckford is a former fashion model with classic features and an impossibly chiseled physique that would give statues cause to swoon. Gee, a movie about a series of awkward men’s fashion shows starring a professional model — wonder how it might end?

If you can ignore the transparent and unchallenging main plot, you then still have to deal with overwhelming levels of mawkish sincerity, bland drama, gooey sentimentality and an embarrassingly inaccurate portrayal of the deep South in the 1930s. It’s also evident Jones is unclear regarding the acknowledged definition of “Jim Crow.” Nothing of real substance takes place, there is next to no friction between the characters and the plodding 99 minute running time feels twice as long.

Given the questionable artistic liberties taken by Jones and his co-writer (also his father) Robert Page Jones, they might have made a better film if it had an American Northeast, post-Civil War setting and ditched the fashion angle in favor of one based in musical competitiveness or political gamesmanship. The high level of resentment of recently freed blacks in a bastion of fervent liberalism like New England was mostly tight-lipped and suppressed and the presence of a character as angelic and righteous as Homer would have probably resulted in some major dramatic sparks. (Indican Pictures)