0

Love saga can't be fixed
‘Broken' has made-for-TV look

Not Easily Broken

(PG-13)

1 1/2 out of 4

Mixing the carnal and the spiritual within the framework of a feature film is always a dicey proposition. Lean too heavily on one side or the other and you'll alienate the two probable, distinctly polarized audiences. Carefully walk the tightrope between the two for the duration and you'll get a competently made, yet totally forgettable morality tale.

Based on the novel by producer/televangelist T.D. Jakes, "Not Easily Broken" covers a lot of the same thematic turf as this week's "Revolutionary Road" only with kid glove caution and unrealized dramatic wallop. Looking less like a feature film and more a cable channel's movie of the week, the production takes few chances and as a result, delivers few payoffs.

Lacking the relative spunk, grit and humor of Jakes' only other book-turned-movie ("Woman Thou Art Loosed"), "Not Easily Broken" is positively inert by comparison. While in possession of a smoldering, Adonis-like appearance, leading man Morris Chestnut (as Dave) is an acting blank slate. Devoid of anything resembling range, Chestnut is called on at various points to emote joy, sadness, anger, rage, passion, resentment and reflection and does so with the same flat, generic expression. He's the urban version of Richard Gere.

As Dave's headstrong wife Clarice, Taraji P. Henson overcompensates for her leading man's lack of talent by going too far the other way. Unlike her impressive and subtle turn as Brad Pitt's surrogate mother in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," Henson is an unchecked ball of kinetic energy whose performance bounces from one wall to another. Her high-powered real estate salesperson character is far more engaging than Dave's failed athlete-turned-struggling-home improvement entrepreneur, but her high-strung rendering borders obnoxious.

After nearly a decade of marriage, Clarice and Dave hit a major crossroads when she is severely injured in an automobile accident. Seething with resentment and restricted from making her high-end wage, Clarice calls on underachiever Dave to pick up the slack, but his commitment to coaching a kid's baseball team and hanging with his overwritten buddies takes precedence.

The one sliver of dramatic tension is delivered by the exceedingly average Maeve Quinlan as Clarice's physical therapist Julie. Patient and thoughtful with Clarice, single mom Julie makes the grave mistake of giving serious credence to Dave's inter-racial, carefully cloaked, not-quite flirts, while staving off the blunt advances by one of his friends.

Concluding with a convenient, neat-bow ending, director Bill Duke's movie brings up the implications of marital infidelity but fails to carry through with the possible messy emotional fallout. There's no real danger or palpable tension. The principal characters tip toe around an incendiary scenario that never materializes and the film only slightly addresses the possible moral and spiritual implications.

As thin and unrealized as Jakes' two film adaptations are, they are light years beyond the similarly flavored works of Atlanta's Tyler Perry, who mixes broad racial and sexual stereotypes with faux spirituality and assembly line sentimentality. Given the choice of the weak two, Jakes is far more preferable. (Columbia/TriStar)