'Not Easily Broken'

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"Not Easily Broken" is based on a novel by Bishop T.D. Jakes, who in this and previous books has found a way to deliver sermons in fictional form. So it comes as no surprise that the story is about a troubled marriage that gets healed when the couple returns to their pastor and accepts his words of wisdom.

The movie from Sony's TriStar Pictures is very much in earnest but has the saving grace of a lively sense of humor that certainly helps the spiritual medicine go down.

Dave (Morris Chestnut) and Clarice (Taraji P. Henson) live an extremely upscale if a tad overextended suburban life, but it's Clarice who funds the lifestyle with her real estate commissions. Dave's baseball career was derailed, so he runs a one-man construction/remodeling firm.

A car accident lays up Clarice for a while, providing an opening for her man-hating mother (Jenifer Lewis), who unfairly blames Dave for the crash, to move in and set about destroying the marriage. She soon accuses Dave of having an affair with Clarice's physical therapist (Maeve Quinlan).

Given the way the two women treat him in his own house, not a few men would entirely blame Dave. Both seem to hate the fact that he likes to coach a kids' baseball team, clearly a substitute for his wife's refusal to give him a child.

But Dave has a strong moral character; so do his buddies (Kevin Hart and Eddie Cibrian).

Which leads to the delicate subject of the film's strong misogynistic flavor. Its female characters are all deeply flawed, while its men are impossibly noble with one exception — and by the end, even he comes around.

Nothing director Bill Duke or screenwriter Brian Bird does ameliorates this slant, but the real problem the film never overcomes, whether it stems from the novelist or his screen adapter, is that it lacks any subtext whatsoever.

The actors do what they can but can't overcome the nakedness of the dialogue or the characters' actions. Duke does ensure that the production flows smoothly, though. And those frequent injections of comedy do wonders. (partialdiff)
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