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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


For years, I've followed the emerging Christian filmmaking movement with great interest. While the quality of pictures coming out of this movement has been so-so at best, I happen to believe that it's a trend with the potential to explode (in a good way). All it's going to take, I believe, is for someone to come along and raise the bar with a really great movie. What that will entail is seamlessly incorporating the Christian themes into a compelling story, as opposed to trying to wrap the story around the themes. Preacher's Kid, available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Warner Home Video, is not the film to do it, although it's a step in the right direction.

The plot is very simple and straightforward. Former Destiny's Child singer Letoya Luckett plays Angie, an Atlanta girl whose father, Bishop King (the terrific Gregory Alan Williams), is an influential church pastor. Tired of her dad's attempts to impose his morality on her, Angie runs off and joins a musical review that plays on the "chitlin circuit." Her hope is to one day become a famous singer. During this time, she is romanced by faded R&B singer Devlin Mitchell (real-life singer Durrell Babbs, better known by his stage name, Tank). Devlin seems to be a nice guy at first, but slowly reveals himself to be a druggie and an abuser. The further Angie gets from her God-centered life, the more she is led down a bad path. Eventually, she has to make the decision to either continue in this lifestyle or return to her roots, and her father.

Preacher's Kid is kind of like Tyler Perry lite. Writer/director Stan Foster is definitely trying to emulate Perry's successful mash-up of melodrama, broad comedy, and religious proselytizing. The downside is that he doesn't have the knack for characterization that Perry has. (And I realize that some folks - especially other critics - look down on Tyler Perry's movies, but I happen to think they have merit.) Most of the characters are one-dimensional, representing a solitary trait (piousness, corruption, innocence, etc.). The sole exception is Devlin, who goes from being a charmer to a jackass in record time. Because most of the characters are so singular, it becomes much more obvious where the story is ultimately heading - although, in fairness, it wouldn't be hard to guess anyway since this is a Christian movie.

On a more positive note, Preacher's Kid definitely has some things going for it. I loved the behind-the-scenes look at the chitlin circuit; no other movie has ever been set in this world, and it's fascinating to see the competitiveness and hard work that goes into such a touring production. The movie also has undeniably good music, well performed by the entire cast. I liked the performances, too. Luckett is an appealing lead, and Babbs proves to have natural screen charisma. The best performance comes from veteran actor Clifton Powell (Ray, Menace II Society), as Ike, the show's tough tour manager. Powell perfectly nails Ike's no-nonsense attitude, which initially seems like meanness to Angie but eventually reveals itself to be a kind of paternal care-taking.

While never fully elevating itself dramatically to a point where it has real emotional power, Preacher's Kid nevertheless can be enjoyed by its target audience: people who are looking for a sweet, good-natured religious picture. Between the music, the cast, and the message, there's enough here to make it worth a look. I wish the film had hit a little harder or had a few unpredictable plot elements, but as far as Christian movies aiming to make mainstream headway are concerned, this is certainly one of the better ones I've seen.

( 1/2 out of four)

DVD/Blu-Ray Features:

Preacher's Kid is available on single disc DVD or in a Blu-Ray combo pack. Both versions include a digital copy of the movie. You can also get it On Demand through digital cable or satellite TV, and via Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game consoles. It is available for rental/purchase through iTunes and Amazon Video on Demand. I reviewed the Blu-Ray version.

The Blu-Ray special features include "The Prodigal Experience: Reflections on a Story" which, as you may have guessed, focuses on the film's message. Writer/director Stan Foster and his cast members discuss their passion for making a faith-based picture, as well as what they hope audiences will get out of it. Nothing here is earth-shattering, although it does suggest that the picture was a labor of love for all involved.

"The Music of Preacher's Kid" is the most interesting feature. It shows us how the music was written for - and integrated into - the film. Many times, songs are thrown onto a soundtrack haphazardly; this time, every song was crafted to advance the storytelling in some way. Luckett at one point discusses the challenge of having to learn and record four songs in one day. Because music is so vital to the film, this segment is really fascinating.

"Letoya Luckett: A Rising Star" traces the lead actress's career, from Destiny's Child, to solo artist, to actress in a real chitlin circuit production. She also offers some thoughts on her tackling her first movie role.

"On Location in Atlanta" is a short segment in which cast and crew discuss how filming in the Georgia city enhanced the production.

There is also a large selection of deleted scenes that add background information to some of the story's subplots.

Preacher's Kid is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving some sexual content, violence and brief drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.

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