Movie Review: Jo Koy is a Filipino Comic who makes peace in his family on “Easter Sunday”

“Easter Sunday” is a sentimental, lighthearted star-vehicle built around Filipino American comic Jo Koy.

With Koy playing a stand-up comic trying to mollify his Filipino-American (Catholic) family and cope with their foibles, it’s a cute, occasionally amusing, no-heavy-lifting-required peek into another culture as seen through a comedian’s eyes.

It’s strikingly similar to the recent indie comedy “The Fabulous Filipino Brothers,” covering some of the same Filipino work ethic, values and comic blind spots (endless Manny Pacquiao jokes). Letting Koy “play” a comic just makes this “The Hollywood Version” of “My Crazy Filipino American Family.”

Koy is Jo Valencia here, a stand-up whose peak moment might have been a series of Bud Zero commercials. He even had a catch phrase, “Let’s get this paaaarty STARTED!”

How original.

Jo’s 40something, divorced, and still chasing every standup’s dream, getting a “pilot” for a TV series. He’s auditioned for one in which he’s to be the colorful neighbor/pal and he’s “this close” to landing it, according to his ever-distracted agent (“Super Troopers” actor and director Jay Chandrasekhar, hilarious in every scene). But Jo won’t buy the “Accents are funny, funny is money, DO the accent” thing to land the role.

That’s hanging over his head as he grabs his teen son (Brandon Wardell) to drive up to Daly City, part of Greater San Francisco and a veritable Little Manila of Filipino-Americans. That’s where his mother (Lydia Gaston) and the aunt she’s feuding with (Tia Carrare) are throwing the big family Easter celebration.

A weekend of church and catching up with relatives is the order of business — assorted aunts and uncles (Joey Guila, Rodney To) and the dopey cousin Eugene (Eugene Cordero) Jo gave a lot of money to start a taco truck business with, who has instead decided a “HYPE truck” (assorted fashion accessories) is the way to go.

Jo’ll bond with the son he’s always too busy for, the kid he constantly interrupts with “I’ve got to take this” call. Unless, of course, he has to fly back to LA mid-meal just to “salvage” the pilot.

The added stress of Mom and Tita Teresa’s feud, some shady stuff Eugene has gotten into, being called on to take over the sermon in church thanks to a loud whisper/argument with Eugene and trying to help his shy kid charm a cute girl (Eva Noblezada) should make things…interesting, in the “A I having a stroke?” sort of way.

Koy’s stand-out moments are that sermon he takes over and turns into a stand-up act, and assorted antic exchanges with a low-rent low-altitude mobster (Asif Ali, over the top) and a cop who happens to have been an ex.

She’s played by Tiffany Haddish, and she knocks her two scenes right out of the park, as can be expected.

Chandrasekhar might be playing a weary Hollywood “type,” the agent always “going into a tunnel, losing you” and hanging up. But he’s so good at it that he puts on a clinic in comic timing.

The script’s low-hanging-fruit laughs and trite Hollywood choice to have Koy play a struggling comic gives the film the feel of a sitcom pilot. He’s forced to be the reactor, and while’s OK, the few stand-up bits here are lame enough (aside from the “sermon”) to make you wonder how he ever landed this star vehicle in the first place.

The more working class, “scruffy” “Fabulous Filipino Brothers” did a FAR better job of immersing us in the culture and — this is important in culture clash comedies like this — the CUISINE. We see a lot of food in “Easter Sunday,” and pretty much no prep. What’re they eating? How’s it prepared? What role does that food play in the culture and its Easter traditions?

The chuckles and occasional flashes of charm make “Easter Sunday” a perfectly watchable if generally underwhelming comedy. But hey, maybe this sitcom pilot will be picked up after all, with or without the funny accent.

Rating: PG-13, threats of violence, profanity

Cast: Jo Koy, Tia Carrere, Lydia Gaston, Brandon Wardell, Eugene Cordero, Eva Noblezada, Jimmy O. Yang, Carly Pope, Jay Chandrasekhar and Tiffany Haddish.

Credits: Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, scripted by Kate Angelo and Ken Chang. A Universal release.

Running time: 1:36

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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