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'Ransom' is too mindless to pay off

What are you doing this weekend? No, skip that. What are you doing with the rest of your life? Whatever it is, it's certain to be less exasperating, better executed, and more entertaining than ''King's Ransom," a busted new comedy in which a millionaire businessman (Anthony Anderson) arranges to have himself kidnapped to avoid paying a lot of money to his soon-to-be ex-wife.

The setup has promise, but considering that the film's distributor didn't bother with a critic's screening, there was no reason heading into the theater to believe a work of competent entertainment was in the offing. Alas, ''King's Ransom" is merely a collection of antics clothespinned to a plot.

Anderson plays Malcolm King, a Chicago advertising mogul worth millions. (It says a lot about our ''get rich or die tryin' " times that a man whose name is a conflation of the civil rights era's biggest icons is a fat money-grubber.) Malcolm is embroiled in a divorce from his gold-digging spouse, Renee (Kellita Smith), as well as the possible sale of his company. While the sale is pending, Malcolm passes over hard-working Angela (Nicole Parker) for the company's number-two position and instead promotes the bubble-headed, exhibitionistic administrative assistant, Peaches (Regina Hall from the ''Scary Movie" series).

On the other side of the tracks is Corey (Jay Mohr), who lives with his vile, chain-smoking grandmother and is desperate to come up with $10,000. Recently fired from his mascot job at a fast-food chain, Corey also decides, on his own, to kidnap Malcolm. Angela has the same idea, as does Renee.

The movie has a talented cast that also includes Donald Faison (the funniest guy on ''Scrubs"); Charlie Murphy, who's stolen a few moments from Dave Chappelle on ''Chappelle's Show"; and Loretta Devine, a dynamic actress who seems to have settled into another office-mama role. All the actors are an unsinkable troupe of cutups, floating around this movie like debris that refuses to go down a drain.

The men guiding this enterprise, director Jeff Byrd and screenwriter Wayne Conley, don't appear to have had any idea what they're doing -- unless getting paid counts as a skill. The film offers an eclectic collection of smart black yuppies but aims to flatter factions of its potential audience by playing up its baser, ghetto instincts. Look out for Murphy's lascivious homosexual ex-con to menace Faison as he enjoys a bubble bath. See Hall, who so deserves a role to demonstrate her comic prowess, rump-shake her way from scene to scene. And marvel at King's assertion that black men don't use chopsticks. I don't care how real ''King's Ransom" tries to keep it, even Connecticut-dweller 50 Cent might have something to say about that.

It's as though delivering the story on even borderline sophisticated adult terms would have cost the filmmakers money. Making the movie as mindlessly crass as possible, on the other hand, just costs integrity. And in the land of bargain-bin comedies, integrity is apparently overrated.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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