I'm in Love With a Church Girl: Film Review

Despite appealing performances and glossy production values, this faith-based drama has the feel of a lengthy church sermon.

A former drug kingpin romances a religious woman in this faith-based drama.

The opening credits of the new faith-based drama I’m in Love With a Church Girl are enough to scare off even the most savage film critic from giving the movie a negative review -- listed among the executive producers is none other than God. But even at the risk of eternal damnation, one must press on.

This autobiographical tale based on screenwriter Galley Molina’s transformation from drug dealer to preacher stars rapper Ja Rule as the coolly named Miles Montego, a former drug kingpin who’s attempting to give up his criminal past and go legit as a concert producer. And he seems to be doing quite well -- driving a flashy car, living in an expensive mansion, and storing his “paperwork,” i.e. wads of cash, in a safe at his mother’s house.

It’s when the street-savvy Miles, who still hangs out with his former partners in crime, meets the lovely Vanessa (Adrienne Bailon) that he truly begins to reconsider his life. As you’ve undoubtedly guessed from the title, she’s a devout Christian who, minutes into their first meeting, asks Miles what church he attends.

“Right now I’m kinda between churches” is the best response he can muster.

Vanessa, who works at a “faith-based product store,” is dazzled by Miles’ good looks, charm, and obvious wealth, not to mention his friendship with former NFL great Jerry Rice (seen in an awkward cameo that seems to indicate he owed someone a favor). Although she’s initially put off when she learns about her new boyfriend’s Scarface-style past, she manages to look past it, assuming that he can find his way toward being “equally yoked” to her and God.

The relationship is not without its bumps. Vanessa resists Miles’ entreaties for sex, which he cannily tries to base on biblical verses. He winds up losing the theological argument, as evidenced by the cold shower he takes immediately afterward.

Meanwhile, Miles is being relentlessly pursued by a pair of DEA agents (Stephen Baldwin and a little-seen Michael Madsen) who are determined to put him away despite their boss’ reluctance to authorize their overtime.

“We’re gonna put a price on justice?” they ask.

Although the film moves at a reasonably measured, some might say lugubrious, pace in its first half, it eventually piles on the melodrama, including the death of one of the principal characters and Vanessa entering a coma after a near-fatal car accident. Cue the emotional hospital-bed scenes, which prompt the anguished Miles, who has wavered in his newfound religious convictions, to reappraise his life.

Confronting a stained glass window of Jesus in a church, he’s initially confrontational. “You want to send me to hell, book the flight,” he sneers, before finally giving himself over and announcing, “I surrender, lord.”

Glossier and more lavishly produced than most faith-based films, the film directed by Steve Race is ultimately undone by a relentless preachiness that gives it the feel of a two-hour sermon. Despite the appealing performances by the two leads — Ja Rule is surprisingly nuanced and sympathetic in his starring turn — it founders under the weight of its heavily moralistic plotline and laughably stilted dialogue. By the time it reaches its predictable feel-good conclusion, one expects a collection plate to be passed around the theater.

Opens: Friday, Oct. 18 (High Top Releasing)     

Production: Reverence Gospel Media

Cast: Ja Rule, Adrienne Bailon, Stephen Baldwin, T-Bone, Martin Kove, Michael Madsen, Vincent Pastore, Michael Rivera

Director: Steve Race

Screenwriter: Galley Molina

Producers: Galley Molina, Michael K. Race, Sean Dinwoodie, Steve Race

Executive producers: Israel Houghton, Galley Molina, Gerald T. Olson, Sally Anderson

Director of photography: Keith Duggan

Editor: Taichi Erskine

Production designer: Doug Freeman

Costume designer: Jihyun Kim

Composer: Bruce L. Fowler

Rated PG, 118 minutes



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