In Kings of the Evening, the African American residents of a Southern boarding house help each other survive during the Depression. The men in the town join in an evening contest in which a man "can look like a million dollars even if he doesn't have a dime." The film benefits from an impressive cast. Given enough time, word of mouth could build a good-sized audience for this absorbing drama.
Homer Hobbs (Tyson Beckford) is released from a prison chain gang. He returns to his hometown to find his mother's been evicted from her residence for failure to pay rent. He meets flashy hustler Benny (Reginald T. Dorsey); seldom without his dice, Benny has far more style than luck. Benny arranges for a room for Homer at the boarding house where he stays. Gracie (Lynn Whitfield) runs the house and she, like everyone else, has seen better days. Her only tenant with a regular income is Lucy (Linara Washington), a seamstress at a local factory. A debt collector named Ramsey (James Russo) visits Lucy and promises trouble if she fails to pay a debt from her past.
Kings is the assured feature directorial debut of Andrew P. Jones who has over twenty years of experience in television in a variety of positions including producer, director and cameraman. He co-wrote the screenplay with his father, Robert Page Jones, who grew up in the South during the Depression. The period atmosphere is enhanced by daily details of the characters' struggles, like Homer's attempting to cover up the hole worn into the sole of his shoe. The factory setting, where a disdainful boss (Bruce McGill) looks down at Lucy and the other seamstresses from a glass-enclosed office, is particularly effective.
The actors create distinctive characterizations, even in the supporting roles. Whitfield, who received an Emmy Award for her TV portrait of Josephine Baker, gives another accomplished performance as the far less flamboyant Gracie, a woman with the inner fortitude to carry on despite continual disappointments.
Glynn Turman (TV's The Wire) excels as Clarence, another border, whom we see grow increasingly desperate to hold on between his government checks. Former model Beckford convincingly portrays Homer's shyness and inexperience in dealing with his growing attraction to Lucy. Washington is an appealing presence, giving Lucy tenacity as well as the feistiness to stand up to authority.
On Sunday nights, the men put on the best clothes they can find and strut before an audience, hoping to be chosen King of the Evening. A character derisively says that entering will make someone "the best dressed peacock in the soup line." But far more than a $5 prize, the contest gives the entrants confidence and self-respect. This event is based on a competition of an African tribe. The writers thought the economic conditions in a Southern town during the Depression were similar to those in parts of South Africa.
Scenes of the King of the Evening completion are staged with visual flair. The enjoyment of the participants is emphasized and appears as a brief respite from the harshness of their lives.
Distributor: Indican Pictures
Cast: Tyson Beckford, Lynn Whitfield, Glynn Turman, Reginald T. Dorsey and Linara Washington
Director: Andrew P. Jones
Screenwriters: Robert Page Jones and Andrew P. Jones
Producers: Reginald T. Dorsey and Andrew P. Jones
Rating: PG for thematic elements, language throughout, some violence and smoking.
Running time: 99 min
Release date: June 25 ltd.