Film Review: Not Easily Broken

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
"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 a 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.

The film is directly aimed at and will undoubtedly play only to the black community. Its viewers may not all be avid churchgoers, but few would willingly admit to this.

Wedding-day dreams have taken several unexpected turns when we catch up with Dave (Morris Chestnut) and Clarice (Taraji P. Henson). They live an extremely, if a tad overextended, upscale suburban life in Los Angeles, but it's Clarice who funds the lifestyle with her real estate commissions. Dave's baseball career was derailed by an ill-fated slide into home plate, so he runs a one-man construction/remodeling firm.
A car accident lays up Clarice for a while, providing an opening to her man-hating mother (Jenifer Lewis), who unfairly blames Dave for the crash, to move in and set about destroying the marriage.

Physical therapist and single mom Julie (Maeve Quinlan) comes on the scene. She makes a new woman out of Clarice -- physically, that is -- but on the basis of absolutely no evidence other than mom's motormouth, Clarice comes to suspect Dave is cheating on her with Julie.

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.

Fortunately, Dave has got a strong moral character, and his two hoops buddies -- played by Tree (Kevin Hart, who makes the most of the film's funniest lines) and Eddie Cibrian -- support his straight-and-narrow pathway.

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

Nothing director Bill Duke or screenwriter Brian Bird does ameliorates this slant, presumably picked up from the novel. But then, Bishop Jakes is one of the producers.

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 dialogue and behavior are all on the money. The wife doesn't suggest her husband might spend less time with his Little League; she calls the inner-city youths gangsters. The mother-in-law doesn't find intricate verbal ways to get across her message; she just brays her hostility toward men all over the living room. Even a waiter goes out of his way to embarrass the husband over a denied credit card.

The actors do what they can with the cards they're dealt 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.
comments powered by Disqus