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Jumping The Broom is strictly standard fare’ Of Gods And Men: A profile in courage

by Mark Burger

Few things scuttle good intentions more effectively than poor execution, and that’s precisely the problem with Jumping the Broom , a film of painfully predictable predicaments produced by Bishop TD Jakes, the Dallas-based televangelist and bestselling author who has manged his ministry into moviemaking the last few years (Woman Thou Art Loosed and Not Easily Broken) and found some box-office success.

Treading into Tyler Perry territory, and none too gracefully, Jumping the Broom stars Paula Patton as Sabrina Watson and Paz Alonso as Jason Taylor. She comes from wealth, he from a blue-collar background. They’re young, they’re in love. And because Sabrina recently got a promotion that will send her to China, they’re getting married.

Director Salim Akil and screenwriters Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs appear to have been weaned on sitcoms and TV tearjerkers, yet Jumping the Broom rarely rises above the standard level of either. The Watsons and the Taylors haven’t met yet, but they will for the wedding, and — surprise, surprise — sparks will fly.

Angela Bassett and Brian Stokes Mitchell play the Watsons, Loretta Devine plays Jason’s widowed mother, Mike Epps his much-married uncle Willie Earl and Tasha Smith plays Mrs. Taylor’s best friend Shonda, who catches the eye of much-younger Sebastian (Romeo Miller). Bassett brings the class, Devine the brass and Smith the sass. Add Valarie Pettiford, as Mrs. Watson’s estranged sister, to the diva delegation.

There are some fine actors on hand here (not the least of whom is Bassett), but the characters are defined and dominated in one-dimensional terms. Those actors who emote and shout the least tend to come off better, mostly by remaining in the background. Patton goes from chirpy to petulant without ever passing likable, and Devine’s character exhibits an excessive bitterness.

It’s a big point of contention when Mrs.

Taylor learns that Jason had dinner with his in-laws-to-be at a fancy restaurant (“21,” in fact) but didn’t invite her. Later, when Mrs. Taylor complains that the caterers are serving “cold shrimp” — it’s shrimp cocktail (and it’s a poor joke) — one understands why she wasn’t invited, especially to a restaurant that doesn’t have a drive-through window.

There are also far too many characters for the film to comfortably accommodate. Meagan Good plays Sabrina’s maid of honor, but other than dallying with the hunky chef (Gary Dourdan), she scarcely needs to be there. This subplot, and these characters, could have easily been eliminated for all the impact they have on the overall story. That’s no reflection on Good and Dourdan, both attractive. Julie Bowen plays the harried wedding planner, an all-toofamiliar character. What’s she doing here? Not much.

Many of the characters’ grudges and points of contention are so trivial, even petty, that they probably could have been solved in a few minutes’ time. This is the sort of movie in which a character learns that he’s not going to be the best man the day before the wedding. Other developments, including Sabrina’s actual lineage(!), are so overblown and contrived that the film falls completely out of balance.

Even the faith-based aspects of the film are buried under the soap suds.

The outcome of the film is never in doubt, although it takes a long time to get there. Even before Jakes returns to preside over the ceremony (he plays Reverend James), everything’s been sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction.

Except maybe the audience’s.

Opening Friday, writer/director Xavier Beauvois’ Of Gods and Men is the fact-based tale of a group of French monks who run a monastery near the Algerian border. They tend the fields, keep the bees (selling the honey for their livelihood) and ministering to the residents of the nearby village.

Many of the villagers are Islamic, yet their relationship with the priests is harmonious and respectful, and it’s refreshing that the film depicts its characters as believable human beings.

However, when Islamic extremists begin committing acts of terrorism in close proximity

to the monastery, the eight monks are forced to consider the impossible and flee the place they’ve each called their home for many years. It’s highly possible, if not probable, that the terrorists would kill or kidnap the monks. Therein lies the tension in the film, which methodically intensifies as the story progresses.

Beautifully shot by Caroline Champetier and sometimes quietly moving, the film (original title: Des Hommes et des dieux) is not a faith-based film per se; it’s about faith, and explores that aspect, but Beauvois never resorts to preaching or sermonizing. The monks come across as people and not merely as mouthpieces. Their faith in God is unswerving. It’s faith in their fellow man that comes into question (understandably) and becomes their collective test of faith.

The ensemble cast is highly effective, with standouts including Lambert Wilson as the leader Brother Christian, determined to remain at the monastery under any circumstance, although he’s not without fear; Loic Pichon as Brother Jean-Pierre, who sees no shame in taking flight; and veteran Michael Lonsdale, in a career-capping turn as Brother Luc, a man of great wisdom and humanity who has seen his share of tragedy in the past. He is content to leave his fate in the hands of his maker.

The film’s pacing occasionally slows, but the film is never dull, and at its best is both suspenseful and inspiring. A piece of history (the actual incident took place in the mid-’90s) has been respectfully and absorbingly rendered on screen. (In French and Arabic with English subtitles)

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