Even amongst evangelical preachers who have built up empires with a gospel of worldly prosperity, T.D. Jakes stands out.
Yes, he’s got the megachurch. He’s got TV shows, a record label and a line of books.
But the Reverend Jakes rakes it in through the movies, too. The 2004 “Woman, Thou Art Loosed,” a luridly effective melodrama, was based on one of his novels. Now comes “Not Easily Broken,” also adapted from a Jakes novel, and produced by him.
This one’s a marital sermon, with the expected dollop of religious counsel. The film charts the ups and downs of a couple married for 10 years.
The husband (Morris Chestnut) is seemingly content with his modest repair business, but he wants children. The wife (Taraji P. Henson) is intent on her career as a real estate agent.
There’s a bit of extracurricular flirtation in the story, but the movie makes plain what the problem is. The wife needs to get her priorities straight, stop nagging her man and have some babies. Oh, and her intrusive mother (Jenifer Lewis) needs to shut her yap, too.
The movie doesn’t put it quite this baldly, but there’s little doubt about where its message is aimed. All of which makes it rather difficult for a marvelous actress, Taraji P. Henson (Brad Pitt’s adoptive mom in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), to stay the course — and yet she walks off with the movie anyway.
Chestnut’s hubby is practically faultless — if anything, his biggest flaw is spending too much time acting as a father to a band of Little League boys. Director Bill Duke isn’t subtle about building up to dramatic moments, including a tentative but illicit kiss that had a preview audience shouting its disapproval.
As for T.D. Jakes, he settles for a smaller role than he had in “Woman, Thou Art Loosed.” Here, somewhat whimsically, he doesn’t play the preacher, but a wealthy real-estate buyer.
“Not Easily Broken” plays like an old-fashioned (1950 or so) instructional film. To be fair, the spirited performers, including comic relief from Kevin Hart, make it more enjoyable than that.
Meanwhile, the T.D. Jakes bandwagon likely will keep rolling in the earthly profits. Heaven can wait.