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‘Kings of Comedy’ are more like jesters

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THE ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY —** 1/2 — Concert film featuring comedy routines by Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac; rated R (profanity, vulgarity, racial epithets); exclusively at the Century Theatres 16.

On the comedic royalty scale, these guys probably wouldn't wind up ruling anyone's kingdom. But "The Original Kings of Comedy" would make pretty good court jesters.

At least some of them.

The title of this concert film refers to four black comedians — Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac — whose styles of humor could not be more different.

The movie could best be described as extremely inconsistent. Some of the routines are laugh-at-loud funny. But others are either so yawn-inducing or so racially specific that if you're not in the target audience, you may feel uncomfortable.

And speaking of uncomfortable, audiences should be warned that the routines featured in the film contain very explicit language, to the point where some of them become wearying.

The film captures the "Kings of Comedy" tour of 1997 during one of its supposed high points, in a sold-out show at the Charlotte Coliseum.

Emceeing the evening's entertainment is Harvey, who is best known for his own sitcom on the WB, as well as his appearances on the syndicated "Showtime at the Apollo" series. He's at his best when doing quick-witted, often improvised riffing, including bits where he playfully rips into the crowd, such as one particularly shady-looking audience member.

In stark contrast is fellow television star D.L. Hughley (star of the former-ABC, now-UPN sitcom "The Hughleys"), whose edgier bits note the similarities between bungee-jumping and lynching, as well as a a diatribe about embattled Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker, though with enough cleverness to make sure neither subject becomes too uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, "clever" doesn't really describe the mostly unfunny set by Harvey's television co-star Cedric the Entertainer, whose discussion of musical styles follows too closely on the heels of a similar routine by Harvey.

And although Bernie Mac's in-your-face style is at least fresher than Cedric's, the constant peppering of four-letter words (including the so-called "R-rated" curse word) makes even the funniest of his jokes wearisome.

Also, though it contains almost full sets by all four men, the movie feels a little too long. Part of that could be director Spike Lee's insertion of bits (such as a backstage poker game) that add nothing to the film whatsoever.

Nor for that matter does his camera trickery — which includes slowed-down blurs during a "Matrix" joke by Cedric the Entertainer — that simply aren't necessary.

Still, at least it's an improvement over recent examples of black humor like "Nutty Professor II" and "Big Momma's House."

"The Original Kings of Comedy" is rated R for frequent use of strong profanity, vulgar humor (both sexual and scatological) and use of racial epithets. Running time: 117 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com