Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 2008 // 100 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Katie Herrell (Retired) // October 13th, 2009
The church brought them together. Her faith will have to do the rest.
This religious film is a relevant reminder to cherish health, wealth, and happiness. But its message is muddled by uninspired scenery, music, and acting.
Jada (Siena Goines, Jericho) loses her husband to a suspicious car crash. The resulting emotional turmoil is further heightened by money and housing woes. When the family (Jada, her daughter Jasmine, and her son Jamal) find themselves living in the gang-run projects, they must rely on faith and various angel incarnations to help them return to the good life.
The movie (which offers no DVD options other than "Play") opens with a young girl weeping as she writes in a diary surrounded by disheveled people. She has a sheet draped over her head, an obvious reference to Mary or other religious women of that era.
Cut to a happy family, happily bickering with one another as they head towards their SUV and a day at the beach.
Cut to news that the patriarch has died in a car crash likely fueled by alcohol and anti-depressants.
Cut to the family living in their SUV and bathing with wet-wipes.
If my description of the previous events strikes you as choppy, then I have effectively conveyed the first 20 minutes of Jada. While the movie establishes an overarching narrator in the daughter Jasmine (the Mother Mary figure), it is a convention that is used sparingly causing the movie to lack cohesion. Instead the back-story is established with fits and starts and the trajectory of the movie is unclear. Jasmine could have been established as the person to lead the audience through the movie, but instead her narration seems detached and is easily dismissed when it is randomly sprinkled throughout the film.
Only Simon (Rockmond Dunbar, Prison Break), an ex-con and angel incarnate #1 emerges to carry the movie. He is a powerful screen presence and while the other gangsters look like they are acting in a low-budget rap video (one fight scene is particularly hilarious), Dunbar looks like he's acting alongside Denzel Washington.
In fact Dunbar elevates the other characters. In the first part of the film, Jada is hollow. When she talks of her husband's death and losing their house she is impassive, devoid of emotion. And it's not the kind of hollowness caused by severe resignation, it's the kind of hollowness caused by not eating breakfast -- nothing is firing. But when she meets Simon a little spark emerges and it ignites her performance and the film.
If only there were more sparks in this film. For all its overt religious offerings (quotes from the bible, snippets of sermons, gospel music), this movie really lacks conviction. Somehow even the gospel music in this film seems canned and devoid of true feeling. Part of that is the obvious low-budget nature of this film. There is no fancy lighting, or scenery, or costuming. The final scene when Jasmine and Jamal sing a duet about overcoming hardship there is a moment of true feeling. Their voices mingle, they pull from the heavens. And then you notice that Jasmine is lip synching. Badly.
I don't think this movie was intended for mainstream release. I think it was intended to be shown to troubled teenagers or at the social services office or at church. There is a specific reference to a welfare statute that makes sense only to those in the know. Considering an audience like that, this movie is high budget and the acting is stellar and the messages just subtle enough that viewers will be sucked in without feeling like they're being preached to. Evaluated in terms of that audience, Jada is a resounding success.
If I were watching this movie in 6th grade health class I would have welcomed it. Had I seen it in the theatre I would have asked for my money back.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG