Directed by: Rob Hardy
Starring: Boris Kodjoe, Tamyra Gray, Clifton Powell, Keshia Knight Pulliam
The Gospel has its eyes on being a surprise hit a la Diary of a Mad Black Woman, but it lacks that film's low comedy and Tyler Perry's fan-base. For that matter, it also lacks the overheated melodramatics of its target, though it understands the religiosity all too well -- even if one might question the sincerity of an enterprise of this nature with a screenplay that refers to evangelism as "the gospel game."
Granted, I am not in the target demographic for this movie, and it's the sort of thing that will probably play pretty well on a preaching-to-the-choir basis. But The Gospel is likely to have a pretty bumpy ride in its attempt to connect with a broader audience.
I think the "hook" is supposed to be the film's gospel music, which pops up every few minutes. And it's certainly the highlight of the movie -- though if I want a movie with a gospel soundtrack, I can watch the Coen brothers' remake of The Ladykillers. I'll be getting a better movie and better use of gospel music in one sitting, not a bland soap opera that plays like a misbegotten African-American version of The Jazz Singer.
The story is simple to the point of simple-mindedness. David Taylor (Boris Kodjoe, Brown Sugar) is a successful -- and (we're told) very sexual -- recording artist who returns to Atlanta when he learns that his pastor father (Clifton Powell, Ray) is dying of prostate cancer. Years earlier, David had rejected his father and religion for the secular world (mostly because dad was more interested in his church than in David or his dying wife). Is now the time for a reconciliation? Will David and his father make up? Will David find himself drawn back to the faith? The movie's called The Gospel, so what do you think?
Not content with this hoary setup, the film also drags in a bunch of filler about associate ministers vying for Pastor Taylor's impending vacancy, and a subplot concerning the dysfunctional marriage of one of these ecclesiastical-climbing preachers. I suppose it depends on your level of interest in church politics, but the whole thing smacks of an overpopulated "daytime drama." There's also a romance for David, as well as the presence of a hip (this we can tell because he calls people "dog"), venal agent (Omar Gooding, Baby Boy), who just wants David to get back on tour.
None of it is very convincing and most of the acting is scarcely more than adequate. The best that can be said about Rob Hardy's direction is that it's fully on a par with his screenplay, scaling different heights of incoherence with amateurish editing and a penchant for time-killing montages and split-screen work.
Hardy's other credits consist of helming a couple sex-based thrillers -- Trois and Trois 2: Pandora's Box -- that appear quite at odds with The Gospel. But, hey, that old warhorse Jesus (the Brian Deacon version that recently found its way into lots of local mailboxes) was the follow-up film to To the Devil, a Daughter from director Peter Sykes. The potentially good news is that Jesus killed Sykes' career stone dead. Rated PG for thematic elements including suggestive material, and mild language.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke