'Cover' tries too hard to tackle topics of infidelity, murder

Cover (PG-13)

1 star out of 4

Ultimately, "Cover" doesn't know what it wants to be: a story about losing and finding one's faith? A cautionary tale of infidelity in a post-HIV world? A statement about the church's treatment of traditionally marginalized groups? It touches on all of these issues, and then fails to delve deep enough to say anything meaningful about any of them.

Aunjanue Ellis is likable enough as Valerie Maas, a churchgoing, devoted wife and mother who stands accused of murdering recording artist Ryan Chambers (Leon). As Val is grilled by a world-weary detective and a district attorney seeking re-election, her story unravels in a series of flashbacks that reveal the deterioration of her marriage.

Val has never suspected her psychologist husband, Dutch (Razaaq Adoti) of cheating on her - until he uproots the family from Atlanta and moves them to Philadelphia, his childhood home. There, the signs are all around: a flirty, clingy co-worker who seems to have an open-marriage arrangement; a suspicious object found in Dutch's wallet; and mysterious phone calls. Dutch starts showering Val with expensive gifts and moves her and their daughter into a lavish house. Ignoring every single one of the red flags, Val instead throws herself into worshipping with the women's group at her new church.

Strangely enough, she can't get away from the topic of infidelity even there. The title of the first meeting - "How to deal with spousal cheating in a constructive way" - is unintentionally funny, but Val and the rest of the women's group take it seriously, culminating in a heated argument among them whether to admit a gay man into the women's group to deal with the fallout from his partner's affair.

From there, the film spirals into a convoluted tale that follows a series of one-dimensional characters as their paths cross. Even the main players - with the exception of Val - are given short shrift. The murdered Ryan drifts through the narrative every now and then to remind viewers that he's an arrogant womanizer. Vivica A. Fox gets ample screen time as Zahara, Val's best friend, but the character seems to exist solely to tell Val that all men are dogs and to reveal a secret connected with her own husband's infidelity that is supposed to be shocking, but instead comes across as comical.

Of course, things are not what they seem, and what Dutch is really up to is revealed, but astute viewers will have figured it out long before then. The rest of the film follows Val's descent into depression as she loses her faith as a result of her husband's actions, but even this is quickly resolved, bringing into question the depth of Val's religious crisis.

Had director Bill Duke chosen one theme to pursue, "Cover" might have worked. Instead, we get a host of meaty topics that remain unexplored and a cast of characters that move through the film without being memorable.