In a recent episode of The Simpsons, Bart witnessed his first gospel performance and boldly declared, “This is awesome! Black God rules!” Bart would probably love the Kirk Franklin-produced soundtrack for Rob Hardy’s The Gospel, but he’d have a cow if he had to sit through the shrill melodrama around which the infectious music is cut. David Taylor (Boris Kodjoe), prodigal son of Pastor Fred Taylor (Clifton Powell), returns to his hometown and finds God, having lost him on his way up the R&B charts. David’s big-city lifestyle stands in sharp contrast to the more intimate way of life he returns to, except Hardy isn’t seriously committed to exploring the emotional journey that took David away from the Lord and his father and onto the ostensibly godless road of contemporary hip-hop music. The pastor’s devotion to his religion—and not his family—was apparently enough to send the boy scurrying for the hills, but Fred’s love affair with God and David’s self-centeredness isn’t up for debate here. Once the old man passes, David simply sets out to prove to all the naysayers, including a single mother played by Tamyra Gray and the egomaniacal childhood friend (Idris Elba) who takes over his father’s pastorship, that he’s not all about the bump-and-grind. The film nobly wants to bring gospel music to the mainstream but doesn’t have the cojones to seriously address the politics that have taken God out of popular black music culture (except, of course, for when he’s being thanked for winning someone a Grammy)—sorry, but the scenes of David performing for a crowd of a horny honies or the glorified danger of a fight inside a club are too glib to really count. This is surprising given the preachy nature of the story. Perhaps Hardy holds back for fear that stepping on his target audience’s toes means losing their business. Whatever the reason, this lack of serious political engagement is actually the least of the film’s problems, because what the story lacks in storytelling finesse it also lacks in style. Inexplicably cluttered with fast-motion shots and quick-edited montages, it’s not long before you realize that the film is just an excuse to put on a gospel show. Which is fine except we still have to suffer through the banal, artless, cliché-ridden fiction of the film—and why should we have to when we can just go to the video store and rent The Ladykillers instead?
The image is clean but the cinematography is unbearable, and while the songs don't exactly pop, the surround work is good. I almost got off the couch at one point thinking David's ringing cellphone was my own.
Producer Will Packer is mad corny (or just full of himself), introducing himself as Will Power on the commentary track he shares with director Rob Hardy. If you survive these first difficult seconds, what follows is a rather devoted defense of the film's gospel spirit, with lots of shout-outs to friends, cast, and crew. Rounding out the extras is a batch of deleted scenes, extended musical performances, a silly photo montage, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and previews.
If the Devil doesn't like this movie then he can just sit on a tack.